Rev. Ronnie Smith sees the need for SNAP firsthand. On Lobby Day, he’ll share his neighbors’ stories in Congress.

There’s something delicious and important happening at the Providence Missionary Baptist Church in the Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

On a recent Wednesday, the enticing smell of barbecue ribs invited guests through the doors and down the stairs to the church’s weekly soup kitchen. Beyond the ribs, there were steaming trays of greens and corn, as well as fruit and cornbread. The warm din of conversation filled the room as dozens of people lined up for a plate.

Last spring, Rev. Ronnie Smith opened both the soup kitchen and monthly food pantry, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, after observing an increasing need in his community. Today, Providence’s growing food assistance program serves about 50 to 60 families a week.

Rev. Ronnie Smith

Rev. Ronnie Smith has served the Providence church community for about 36 years.

Smith is one of seven Chicago anti-hunger advocates to receive a scholarship from the Greater Chicago Food Depository to travel to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 23 to attend the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference.

Each year, Food Depository staff and advocates attend the conference to learn, network and lobby for compassionate and prudent food policy. The conference is co-sponsored by Feeding America and the Food Research & Action Center.

Smith, 72, is hoping to make an impact in his first trip to the nation’s capital.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to dialogue with some of our elected officials as to the seriousness of (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). … I’m hoping to tell them that what they’re funding is actually what people here on the ground need,” said Smith, who serves as an assistant to the pastor at the Providence church.

Since launching the soup kitchen and food pantry, Smith said he’s seen the food insecurity firsthand in his community.

“The last thing we need is people who aren’t able to function because they can’t get a meal,” he said.

For years, the church has served holiday meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas, often drawing more than 250 people, Smith said. Many of those people clearly were in need of more consistent help, sparking the idea for a soup kitchen and pantry, he said.

Providence food pantry

Providence Missionary Baptist Church also operates a monthly food pantry in addition to its soup kitchen.

Tasha Berry helps Smith manage the pantry and soup kitchen. Berry called Smith a “man of vision” and lauded his work in establishing the food outreach at the church.

His work in Gresham could help open some eyes on Capitol Hill, Berry said. As the cost of just about everything has increased with inflation, she said, many people in the community are struggling to make ends meet.

“I hope he can get the lawmakers to know there are a lot of hungry people out here. And there are more working class people on the edge who are having to make decisions between buying food and buying their medicine, for example,” Berry said.

“And if you don’t eat, how are you going to have strength to get up and go do what you need to do?”

Follow along with Rev. Smith and other advocates on their trip to D.C. Join our Champion Advocates email list for updates.

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