Episode 265 is with Kim Emch from Festa.

Festa is Serving Our Neighbors:

  • Ending poverty through life changing relationships.
  • Passionate about helping children and families in poverty – many are New Americans, and many live in suburbs.
  • Connect neighbors to build relationships that end poverty, in this generation!

Kim’s Story

I’m a servant of God because He rescued me.

By the time I was 17, I had lived through five divorces by my two parents: one being an alcoholic, and one having an affair. I didn’t grow up facing financial poverty, but my home was filled with chaos and pain. But God did not forget me; He rescued me. He sent people from a local church who invited me every single week to a youth program they hosted. It was full of joy and peace. It was a safe refuge. They cared about me, loved me, and taught me about the Lord. They said,

“Kim, the God of the universe made you and He loves you. You’re gifted and talented.”

“Kim, you’re smart. Have you ever thought of going to college?”

“Kim, you have leadership abilities. We could hone that for you. We can grow that in you and God could use you for his plans for His future.”

They started casting a vision for me of a future where I would use my gifts and talents to serve God.

Fast-forward to March 2007. I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to light my heart on fire in a whole new way. Eleven short days later, I learned there were 2,158 children facing poverty in my own suburban community. I had been tutoring children facing poverty in downtown Columbus for years, but I had no idea that my neighbors – children in MY town who went to school with my own children – were also facing poverty. The free or reduced school lunch program came screeching to an abrupt halt for 12 weeks every summer, and those children went hungry. I felt a call on my life to love, serve and feed them body, mind and spirit, and to bring the body of Christ alongside me.

I’d never even heard of a free summer lunch program, but I felt compelled to try. God gave me a big, loud mouth, so I used it to tell anyone who would listen to me. I talked to church communities, businesses, civic associations, and my friends and neighbors. I urged them to come together to feed these children, and we did exactly that; 178 of us served 246 children that summer with 2,376 lunches.

Before March 2007, my circle was the opposite of diverse. Everyone I knew was exactly like me; they looked, talked and dressed like me. Suddenly, I was looking into the faces of beautiful, gifted and talented children and their amazing parents who came from all walks of life. They were diverse in every sense of the word: racially, socially, economically, culturally, and religiously. I found myself compelled to love them even more.

They began sharing heart-breaking stories. One family saved up to buy a car that broke down before they even got home, and they became entwined in a legal battle.  Parents struggled to get jobs and put food on the table for their families because they couldn’t speak English well enough. Children were falling behind in school because parents couldn’t help them with homework.

We kept helping and serving and living life together. God sent me to places that nothing in my previous life experience prepared me for. He guided me into homes and into hearts. I constantly said, ‘God, I’m not the right one. You’ve got to bring someone else. You have to bring more people.’ He ALWAYS brought more people. And we started creating these spaces where we gathered people to learn from each other. In the summer, it was a camp, and in the school year, an ESL Family program.

I realized that God was using me to create spaces of refuge – the same kind of spaces He created to rescue me in decades past.

I want you to celebrate with me today, because God has used me and thousands of other people through Festa, the non-profit I founded 14 years ago, to serve 163,555 (and counting) meals to local children facing poverty. We exist to serve 800+ families, 1500+ children, with 900+ volunteers every year in these spaces — and hopefully more with your help.

In 2022 Festa was selected by the prestigious Stand Together Foundation as one of the country’s most transformative nonprofits. The nonprofit was then invited to be part of Stand Together’s Catalyst Program, a management training and peer-learning program.