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CROS Ministries celebrates 40 years of collaboration

CROS Ministries celebrates 40 years of collaboration

Missions and Outreach
Ruth, Shona, Juanita at Caring Kitchen April 2018

Ruth Mageria worked with CROS Ministries for 12 years as a food pantry and camp coordinator before returning to her native Kenya in 2010 to use her skills and experience for those in need.

But when CROS needed her a few years later to lead its mission of feeding the hungry, Mageria answered the call.

A CROS ministries client picking up his mail.

As Lake Worth-based CROS—Christians Reaching Out to Society—marks its 40th year, they celebrate feeding more people in Palm Beach and Martin counties and involving more of the community in the effort.

“We’re incorporating this anniversary in everything we do,” said Mageria, who became executive director in 2014 when longtime director Rev. Pam Cahoon retired.

CROS was started in 1978 by the United Methodist Churches in Palm Beach County.

“(It) became ecumenical, and today we work with a lot of faith communities, including our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Mageria said. “Our mission is to serve the hungry through community collaboration; our ability to collaborate with other entities is one of our greatest strengths in creating a bridge for people who have nowhere else to turn.”

Those relationships proved crucial at the end of 2017.

The CROS Ministries' hot meal program, The Caring Kitchen, outgrew its location in Delray Beach, a former American Legion hall owned by the city and had to find a new place to serve nearly 70,000 meals a year to those who depend on it.

Now, Resurrection Life Fellowship, Cason UMC and St. Matthew's Episcopal rotate lunch service on weekdays.

Cason gives out more than 15,000 bag lunches on Saturday mornings, enough food to last people through the weekend. On Sunday evenings, Haitian United Church of the Nazarene serves supper. Local churches Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist and Church of Our Savior Metropolitan Community also partner with CROS.

“A new sense of community has developed—people are getting to know the different congregations,” Mageria said. “A lot of people of different faiths are coming together to make sure people have enough to eat.”

There are 3,000 volunteers preparing the food weekly.

“We are very volunteer-led,” said Mageria. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them.”

Ruth and two other generous volunteers serving.

Rev. Juanita Bryant Goode, CROS’ director of engagement, shepherded the Caring Kitchen changes.

“The churches were so gracious and excited to partner with us,” she said. “Their volunteers and our current Caring Kitchen volunteers have made the transition go smoothly. We all expected rough spots, but none came. New friendships have been made, and participants are now attending and volunteering at some of the churches.”

Jeffrey Riordan began volunteering with The Caring Kitchen a year ago, at the recommendation of his sober living residence.

“It has been a rewarding experience, being able to help the less fortunate and do God’s will,” he said. “We all take a lot for granted, and this serves as a reminder that, at any given time, any of us may need the services provided through CROS. Everyone deserves respect.”

Another volunteer, Art Levin, has been helping with lunch preparation for two and a half years.

“It’s gratifying to help people directly and see their appreciation,” said Levin, who is retired after a long career in public service. “It’s sad, though, to see how much need for help exists in the United States.”

In addition to The Caring Kitchen, CROS programs include:

  • Seven community food pantries that distribute food to more than 66,000 people.  More than one-third of them are children;
  • CROS Gleaning, in which volunteers pick fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. They recovered about 500,000 pounds of fresh produce last year, which was distributed to local food programs by the Palm Beach County Food Bank;
  • Nondenominational summer and Christmas camps, which provide children with a safe, nurturing place and meals during school breaks;
  • Nutrition in a Knapsack, which distributes weekend backpacks of food to about 300 students;
  • After School Snack program, providing about 12,000 after-school snacks to students in Delray Beach.

“(Volunteers) play a key role in the programs and are the front line of service,” said Goode, who has been with CROS since 1996.

“Staff has grown as we added on more programs and pantry locations. We now have a part-time or full-time staff person for each pantry location.”

Some recipients come to The Caring Kitchen or a food pantry weekly, while others come only once a month, Mageria said.

Volunteer John Eck delivering supplies of dessert and bread.

“We’re also helping to fill a gap—if you get food stamps or your car broke down,” she said. “People know that we are there, and sometimes they just need someone to listen to them without judgment. They just need to feel safe.”

CROS also provides thousands of referrals and services for basic needs and helps people apply for government benefits including food stamps, Medicaid and temporary cash assistance.

“One of the keys to our identity is the love, hope and care we provide to one another and those we serve,” said Goode.

She reflected on CROS’ challenges and successes over four decades.

“It is a challenge to communicate the need, share our story to capture the hearts of potential supporters,” she said.

“One of the greatest successes has been the transformation of people's lives, from volunteers to the people we serve. To be able to touch a person's life is an honor and privilege. We are the hands and feet of God, bringing God's love into reality for those struggling with daily living.”

CROS has evolved along with Palm Beach County, Mageria said.

“When I look back and think about how it began, our mission was all about making a difference,” she said.

“When I think of where we are today, focused on serving the hungry, we also see ourselves as providing hope for those who have nowhere else to turn and connecting them to other resources. They’re not ‘those people.’ They’re my sisters, my brothers. It’s all of us coming together to make a much better community.”

—Eileen Spiegler is a freelance writer based in Ft. Lauderdale.

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