A Brief History of Project-44

As we celebrate the 15th year of our organization, we wanted to share a brief history of how we started, highlight some of the significant events that shaped us, and share a few stories of how we have helped our community. This is the first installment.

This post is 461 words and about a 2 minute read

Origin Story

On a cold January night in 2008, five people met in the living room of the home of Ben and Margret Fields. They and Kyle Roberson, Joy Roberson, and Brett Parker were eating pizza and discussing what God might call them to do. 

At the time, Ben, a mechanic and the owner of a car repair shop, had been quietly giving cars to people in need. Occasionally someone, typically a customer, would approach Ben with a vehicle they no longer needed and had little to no trade-in or resale value. Ben would inspect the car, and if it could be made roadworthy with minimal repairs, he would complete the work. Once the car was ready, Ben would call upon a local church for help identifying a potential recipient needing reliable transportation. 

The group concluded they should be more intentional in following where God was leading: giving cars to people in need. Through Ben’s efforts, it was already happening without intentional effort. What would happen if this became an organized ministry? 

The group would work out the details of sourcing cars and identifying potential recipients later. Now the conversation turned to finding a name for the ministry. The Book of Acts served as an inspiration as they started searching the internet for words and phrases that would apply to this ministry. They knew they would eventually need a domain name, so that was the logical place to start. 

All the good names with “Acts” in them, like Acts of Love, Acts of Service, etc., were already taken. Margret remembered reading about a project in another state where a group wanted to put a church on every exit of a particular freeway loop. The name was “Project” plus the highway number of the loop. Margret and the others counted the number of books in the Bible and found that Acts is the 44th book. “Project 44” sounded like a great name! A quick search of “Project 44” on the internet revealed a garage rock band (Project .44) and a supply-chain business (Project44). However, the domain “Project-44” was available, so with the addition of a hyphen, Project-44, the car ministry, was born.

With a mission and a name, the next step was to organize as a non-profit. A formal organization designated as a non-profit would be more likely to secure the donated cars and financial support needed. The same group that met in that living room on a cold January evening began the formation process and filed the necessary paperwork with the IRS in April 2008. In November 2008, Project-44 officially received non-profit status. 

Those early visionaries had no idea how a car ministry would grow and expand. They were just thankful to have a place to start. 

Next: A Counseling Ministry is Added

The Biblical Case for Feeding the Hungry

This post is 1,295 words and about a 5 minute read.

In our last article, we focused on the issue of food insecurity. We looked at the definitions and a few statistics about this problem. We also provided examples of how Project-44 has historically responded to the needs of those suffering from temporary and chronic food insecurity. In this article, we take a closer look at how the Bible has called each of us to feed those who hunger.

What Scripture Teaches Us

As a faith-based organization, Project-44 relies on Scripture to help guide us toward a better understanding of being in relationship with God and with each other. When it comes to feeding the hungry, there is no shortage of passages that give us direct instruction on how to respond to those who hunger. Here are a few examples from the Old Testament:

9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:9-10 (NRSV)

The Book of Leviticus is known as the book of laws. According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments (laws) contained in the Torah, which are the first five books of the Christian Bible. The Book of Leviticus contains a large number of that total. While some within the Christian faith might dismiss the book, and its many references to ceremonial laws, as irrelevant, many passages provide insight into how we should live a life that honors God.

The passage above is an instruction to farmers not to completely harvest their fields, so the poor and needy may glean what remains for themselves. You might call this a public assistance program for the ancient world. Grain left at the corners of the field and grapes left on the vine were available after the harvest. This law and the farmers’ compliance demonstrate that God cares for the poor and wants them to have opportunities. The instruction encouraged farmers to have a generous heart, giving the poor a way to provide for their own needs with work and dignity.

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 

21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 (NRSV)

This passage from the Book of Deuteronomy – another book of the Torah – also instructs farmers to leave a portion of their harvest for the poor. All of those in need were allowed to gather from the fields. Similar to the passage in Leviticus, the instruction provides the poor with not only the food they need, but the opportunity to meet their own needs with dignity.

These two Old Testament passages lead us to make provisions for the poor while also allowing them to retain some level of dignity. Even though most of us are not farmers, the underlying message is clear and transcends the generations: we are to share out of our abundance. We mentioned in our previous article that everyone in the United States should have access to a consistent supply of healthy food. And many other organizations that provide food for those in need concur. We can and should apply these instructions to the present challenge of food insecurity by freely sharing what we have and reducing the waste we create.

Other Types of Hunger

The word “hunger” refers to an unmet need. Physical hunger – the kind that results from drastic food insecurity – is one of the most urgent and important needs a person has. Food is a basic need to sustain life. But there are other hungers that signal more complex needs. There is spiritual hunger when we feel deprived of a sense of purpose, passion, pleasure, or joy in our lives. There is hunger for relationships. When we are deprived of social contact, we crave personal interaction. Think of the pandemic when we were locked down in isolation. We are not solitary creatures, and a lack of human interaction can be as debilitating as hunger for food.

We turn back to the Old Testament and the Book of Psalms and read about the plight of the Israelites.

4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; 7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. 8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.

Psalm 107:4-9 (NRSV)

After being freed from slavery, they wandered the desert. Not only did they face physical hunger, but their spirit was broken. In that season of desperation they cried out to God and they were filled “with good things.” They were fed mind, body, and soul. This is the lesson of trusting God to provide all we hunger for.

Who Will Feed the Hungry?

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.

Psalm 146:7 (NIV)

We are told throughout Scripture that God will feed the hungry. In the case of the Israelites, God had a direct role in providing food. Does that mean we should all sit back and wait for God to solve the problem of food insecurity? Absolutely not. Ultimately we all play a role in the solution. 

God gives food to the hungry by providing for them through His creation. Throughout the generations, people have used their creative minds to combine the natural resources available with the agricultural and production techniques of the time to deliver the food needed to sustain life. Each person who has ever lived has been granted gifts and abilities that allow them to learn and solve problems in their own environments. And God has placed people in communities so they can mutually support one another.

All of these gifts are the means by which God feeds the hungry. When we read in the Psalm that God “gives food to the hungry,” we are reminded of the interconnected and generous ways that God provides for us. 

Project-44’s Efforts to Feed the Hungry

We partner with a number of local churches to distribute food to those who are experiencing food insecurity. But we also believe it is not enough to just feed the belly. We are called to feed the soul. That’s why we also offer counseling services to those who are spiritually hungry. We encourage gathering together in worship and fellowship to feed the human desire to be in relationship with others. We are committed to using the gifts God has given us to feed anyone who is hungry – physically, spiritually, or otherwise. 

Visit our Services page to see how we feed the hungry in our community. If you would like to make a financial contribution to support our efforts, visit our Donate page or use our Contact page to request more information.

Food Insecurity in the US – A Real Challenge

This post is 1,086 words and about a 4 1/2 minute read.

For many years we have seen the all too familiar images of hunger from outside our country. But there is hunger inside our borders too. Food insecurity in the United States is real.

Project-44 has a history of addressing food insecurity. Our Food Distribution ministry has existed nearly as long as the Car Ministry that started our organization. At one time, we operated a farm that delivered hundreds of pounds of organic produce each week to those in need. In addition, we partnered with local churches to run Family-to-Family, an outreach that equipped a family from the church to deliver food and spiritual care to another family in need. Right now, we support the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas through our partnerships with several local churches who operate food pantries. Our mission is simple: get healthy food options into the hands of those who need help to curb the uncertainty about the source of their next meal.

The need has been evident for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in the number of families experiencing food insecurity. And just when we thought the worst had passed, we saw another surge caused by supply chain issues. The fallout from the pandemic and economic issues impacted a food distribution network we took for granted. As the pandemic subsided we noticed a decline in the number of people visiting the food pantries we serve. Unfortunately, the numbers are now trending to a return to pandemic levels of demand.

Defining the Problem

According to the US Department of Agriculture, food insecurity refers to the economic and social conditions that limit access to adequate food. People who face food insecurity do not have sufficient resources to consistently access the food needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. As a result, they might eat lower-quality foods or skip meals entirely. “Resources” in this case not only means money, it means availability. There is such a thing as a food desert. Often found in rural and lower-income areas, these deserts lack access to the most fundamental nutritional needs.

Food insecurity is often measured in terms of its severity and its cycle. Moderate insecurity tends to be more temporary and occurs when people reduce the quality or quantity of food they eat due to life circumstances. Those suffering from moderate food insecurity as a result of job loss or other economic factors are often the majority of visitors to the food pantries where we serve. Those experiencing severe food insecurity often go entirely without food, some for days at a time. The people in this group are the “hungry,” representing the extreme side of the food security spectrum. Their plight is a chronic struggle. We may not see these people in the food pantry lines because they are living without the ability even to seek out the help they need. 

Impact in the United States

While some would think of food insecurity as an issue specific to emerging economies, many people in the United States face this challenge, as evidenced by the lines at the local food pantries. A study cited by McKinsey and Company estimates that in 2020, 38.3 million people in the United States lived in food-insecure households. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number grew in 2021 to more than 40 million, according to research conducted by Feeding America, a US-based nonprofit that operates a network of over 200 food banks.

The impact of food insecurity extends beyond just hunger. Another study cited by McKinsey found that in communities with high instances of food insecurity, the likelihood of dying from COVID-19 per 100,000 residents was 1.4 times higher. In addition, those regions with a higher percentage of food-insecure people tend to have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

If you would like to learn more about food insecurity in the United States at the local level, we recommend Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study.

Solving the Problem

What’s the solution? Food banks are one option. These local agencies, such as the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, TX, collect and store donated food and then distribute it to community organizations such as food pantries, shelters, and meal programs. In turn, these community organizations serve as the front line distributing food directly to individuals in need. The impact of this network of food distribution did not go unnoticed at the height of the pandemic when the United States experienced a surge in demand for food support. Unfortunately, the demand remains high even as we return to a more “normal” life without shutdowns and disruptions to the supply chain.

Reducing excessive food waste at all stages of production, distribution, and consumption could help alleviate some food insecurity. Feeding America reports that they rescue nearly 3.6 billion pounds of food annually. This is the result of efforts by just one organization. Imagine the impact if a more concerted effort was made to redirect usable food destined for landfills to people in need instead. 

Our Role

What can we do? There is no reason anyone in the United States should have to worry about where they are going to find nutritious food for their family. We have enough food available in this country that hunger shouldn’t be anyone’s concern. Each of us can take small steps that will help alleviate food insecurity. Here are a few ideas:

Support local food banks. Whether it’s a financial gift or food donations, what you give to a local food bank will find its way to those who need the help. Second, volunteer at a local food pantry. Many of these outreach programs depend on the time donated by volunteers to complete their work. Being on the front line provides an opportunity to see firsthand the impact of food insecurity on our communities. Finally, evaluate how your household might be contributing to excessive food waste, and take steps to reduce or eliminate it. Food that your family is throwing out might have helped someone else.

Project-44’s Commitment

Project-44 is committed to helping those who are experiencing food insecurity, whether it’s temporary or chronic. Visit our Food Distribution page to see how we’re helping in our community. If you would like to make a financial contribution to support our efforts, visit our Donate page or use our Contact page to request more information.

What is Project-44?

This post is 749 words and about a 3 minute read.

Shortly after the creation of Project-44 in January 2008, we started using the tagline, “What is… PROECT-44.ORG?” It appeared on t-shirts, communication pieces, and giveaway items. We still put a bumper sticker carrying the slogan on every automobile we give through our car ministry. The intent was, and still is, pretty simple: prompt people to ask the question so we can tell them our story. 

Over the last 15 years, the answer to the question might have varied some based on the ongoing ministries we were engaged in. For example, we operate a car ministry, and at one time, we had a farm ministry. For a couple of years, we were a worship community and have offered faith-based counseling services throughout our history. And we have built a network of ministry partnerships with other organizations that share our vision of serving our community. But the consistent response to the question, regardless of the services we offer, can be summed up by our mission statement:

“Project-44 is an organization called to go beyond the walls of the church to help people in need, where they are.”

With that core purpose in mind, let us briefly describe our ongoing services as we enter our 15th year.

Car Ministry – We began as a car ministry in 2008, and it remains at the heart of Project-44. But, unfortunately, since our high water mark in 2017, when we provided reliable transportation to 52 families in need, the number of cars given has steadily declined. Changes in the Federal Tax Code that reduced the tax benefit of donating vehicles to charitable organizations have directly impacted the number of cars we receive each year. In addition, supply chain issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainty have increased the value of used vehicles, so people are holding on to cars they might otherwise donate. Unlike the trend in cars received, requests for help have steadily increased each year. We treat every vehicle we receive as a blessing and an opportunity to help someone on our ever-growing waiting list. 

Counseling – The importance of mental health care has never been greater. Some would characterize the state of mental health care in the United States as being in crisis. Unfortunately, there are those in our community who find access to quality care out of reach. Project-44 has offered counseling services to those who cannot afford them since our founding. Referred to as  “Sanctuary,” we acknowledge our faith through the care we provide and emphasize our desire to provide a safe place to those who are feeling the burdens of life.

Food Distribution – Hunger, food insecurity and scarcity, access to adequate quality food – whatever description you wish – is a real problem in the United States. At the height of the pandemic, people who never imagined needing help found themselves in lines at local food pantries. With current economic conditions putting pressure on household budgets, the demand for assistance remains constant. Feeding the hungry is a Biblical tenet and a responsibility we take seriously. We partner with several local organizations and agencies to ensure families have consistent access to the food they need.

Liberia Trade School – Responding to a need seen firsthand, Project-44 founders Ben and Margret Fields set in motion a plan to build a vocational trade school in Liberia, Africa. This outreach opportunity is significant because it expands our reach to an impoverished country with many needs and represents the largest project we have ever taken on. Our efforts in Liberia will be a central focus for us this year, and we look forward to sharing our progress. 

While these represent our ongoing funded and prioritized ministries, we know there will be other opportunities to serve in the year ahead. If we have learned anything in 15 years of service, we’ve learned that there are people in need all around us. Unfortunately, some are reluctant to ask for help, while others fall through the cracks in our social support network. Our mission is to be proactively in the community and not wait for someone in need to seek us out. 

What is Project-44? We are a dedicated group living out the commands to love God and love one another. We are committed to the model of the early Church as described in the Book of Acts – the 44th book of the Bible and our namesake – where “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

A New Year and A New Look; The Same Mission

Happy New Year from the People of Project-44!

For many of us, the new year is ushered in with renewed hope, enthusiasm, and the promise of making it the best year ever. We come up with resolutions and write lists of the things we want to accomplish. We share our goals and aspirations with those close to us in hopes they might keep us accountable. We dream big!

But in the haste to get off to the right start, we often jump straight into the new year without taking stock of where we have been and what we have accomplished. It’s as if we want to put the disappointments and missed opportunities of the previous year behind us as quickly as possible. We seize the opportunity to make a fresh start. Yes, there are plenty of things about 2022 we want to put behind us. Economic challenges, political polarization, continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, wars, and suffering are all things we would just as soon forget. Sadly they won’t go away with the flip of a calendar page. At the same time, there is no point in dwelling on that which has passed.

For Project-44, this new year, in particular, is a perfect time to consider where we’ve been. In 2023 we celebrate 15 years of service to the community. What started as a car ministry in early 2008 has evolved into several ongoing programs. The services we provide today have been shaped by the needs we’ve encountered firsthand. Some of the services we have offered over the last 15 years have come and gone, while others are in their infancy. We have celebrated lives changed and mourned the end of ministries we loved. Yet, despite the ebbs and flows characteristic of an outreach that serves a diverse population, our fundamental purpose has remained constant: we are called to help those in need where they are.

Like many of you, we have goals for the new year, and we hope to make this the best year ever. Throughout 2023 we will reflect on our past and challenge ourselves to continue growing and evolving. By reading this blog post, you are seeing the fulfillment of our first goal in 2023. Today we have launched a newly updated website. Our original site served us well, but we thought it was a good time to give our online presence a new, more modern look. In addition to the new design, we intend to make a more concerted effort to bring new content to the site. Look for more frequent blog entries, videos, and information about our outreach efforts Take a look around and don’t hesitate to drop us a note if you have suggestions.

As always, we are grateful for your generous support. Whether it is through prayers, volunteer opportunities, or financial gifts, we wouldn’t have made it to 15 years without you. We look forward to another year of ministry to the communities we serve. We are grateful you are joining us. May God pour out blessings on all of us in 2023!