The Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries (SAEM) is a gathering of lay and pastoral representatives from Salem, Virginia, and western Roanoke County churches and local service agencies, working to strengthen community resilience by encouraging collaboration in the areas of food, clothing, and educational resources. With the support of more than 300 volunteers, SAEM offers elementary and middle school meal programs and school gardens as well as Mrs. Dorsey’s Clothes Closet. SAEM actively engages members of diverse faith congregations and encourages previous recipients of their ministries to assist with programs. SAEM is recognized as the lead ministry partner in providing food, clothes, books, and school supplies to the local community.
SAEM provides nutritious and wholesome breakfast and lunch for at-risk elementary school children in Salem and western Roanoke County through the weekend Area Churches Together (ACT) backpacks program, serving 145 students, as well as the “Summer Feed and Read” program, which provided more than $32,000 in Kroger gift cards to over 170 families for the purchase of meals for elementary school children during the summer months. SAEM also partners with local schools to provide food pantries for students who may face food insecurity, allowing access to healthy foods with a “student-choice” design. “For the past 13 years, Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries has raised funds to provide nutritious and wholesome breakfast and lunch items,” says nominator Reverend David R. Drebes. “Each year, the challenge is ever greater!”
Through partnerships with local grocers, area restaurants, fruit and produce vendors, pastry shops, bakeries, and the local food pantry, SAEM is able to coordinate and support the collection and distribution of food items. There are over 3,000 business establishments, two farmer’s markets, one agricultural sustainability center, and one community garden located in Salem and Western Roanoke County that provide food.
Further, SAEM provided more than 120 personal hygiene packets, 500 age-appropriate books, and 23 cases of school supplies to 140 students in the past year. Through Mrs. Dorsey’s Clothing Closet, SAEM also provided new and gently used clothing for a total of 11,686 family members, an increase of 15% from the previous year. In addition, the Clothes Closet provided 1,077 winter coats.
SAEM frequently receives thank you letters from students, teachers, and school administrators, including a letter from a 7th grade student at the local middle school who shared that his family can now join together and share meals. He added, “I am able to accomplish more, having had a better breakfast.” The school food pantries are making a difference in their lives, education, and more importantly, their future.