Moab church communities have worked hard to stay connected throughout the pandemic. Church members are continuing to meet digitally and care for one another, and also looking for ways to care for their communities outside church membership. Some churches field requests for aid as they arrive; St. Francis Episcopal Church offers a weekly meal and also hosts a food pantry. The Seventh Day Adventist Church of Moab is undertaking a farm project, hoping to support local food security as the effect of the pandemic continues to affect the community, the nation, and the world.

Moab Manna

The Seventh Day Adventist Church has procured the use of an approximately 12-acre vacant lot owned by a church member’s business partner on which they plan to grow potatoes to be distributed to anyone in need of food assistance when the crop is ready.

“The church was trying to step back from the immediate circumstances of the coronavirus and look at what sort of side effects or consequences it could have,” said Pastor Nathan James of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, explaining how his congregation came up with the project. They anticipate food supply chains being a possible concern as the pandemic drags on, so they put together a plan to bolster local food security.

The project is called “Moab Manna,” named for an Old Testament Bible story in which food is providentially supplied to the Israelites during a 40-year period of wandering in the desert after they are freed from captivity. Church members see a parallel in their effort to feed their community in a time of need.

Church members have already picked up 21,000 pounds of seed potatoes from Idaho to start their crop. The group chose to focus on potatoes for ease of cultivation and their relatively long shelf life after harvest, as well as their high yield per acre. A member of Moab Seventh Day Adventist’s sister church in Castle Valley used to be a commercial potato farmer and is providing expertise on how to grow the crop. Another church member has a connection with the owner of a potato planter who is willing to lend their machine, which will greatly reduce the labor of sowing each potato under the ground.

“It’s really a cooperative effort on multiple sides,” said James, expressing appreciation for the loan of land, tools, and time from various donors.

James said there are about 10 core volunteers working on the project, and the church welcomes more, whether they are church members or not. He said some non-church members have already reached out with offers to donate surplus from their personal gardens to be distributed along with the potato crop. There is more work to be done; right now, volunteers are preparing the lot for planting, removing weeds and rocks from the ground. They will soon have to install irrigation infrastructure. If you’re interested in contributing time or in other ways, you can email Pastor Nathan James at pastornathanutah@gmail.com or call the Seventh Day Adventist Church at 435-259-5545.

“If things stabilize and life resumes something like normalcy at the end of this all, then we would market the harvest to local businesses, the grocery store, restaurants and stuff like that,” James added. “But it seems like all of the indicators lean toward things being a bit more complicated.”

Other community care projects

For the past couple of years, St. Francis Episcopal Church of Moab has offered a free mid-dayl meal every Thursday to anyone who wanted to come. Church doors were open and anyone could walk in, get a bowl of soup, and take a seat, socializing with other community members taking part. Restrictions on gatherings limit the church’s sit-down meals but meals are offered to go every Thursday between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“We’re trying to do our thing in the community and do what we can,” said Father Dave Sakrison of St. Francis Episcopal Church.

St. Francis also hosts a food bank, which is open from 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays.

Pastor Keith VanArsdol of Moab Community Church said his church often receives requests for help from people in the community. They are still fielding those requests, though social distancing is changing their approach.

“We’ve pretty much locked up the building,” he said. “That’s a big difference for us. Usually, we have an open-door policy. People come in off the street for help quite often.”

The church is still offering assistance to people in need who contact them by phone or are referred to them by other local organizations like the Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center.

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