By Kara Witherow, Editor
Last month, a handful of men biked 15 miles to Centerville United Methodist Church’s food bank. The food bank closest to their homes had closed, and they couldn’t afford groceries or gas.
Inflation and high gas prices are driving more people to Centerville UMC’s bi-weekly food bank, said Cheri Cox, a member of the church and a food bank volunteer. Wednesday, May 11 was a record day, with volunteers serving more than 300 people.
“I think the economy is getting bad. It’s so expensive. People can’t afford food,” she said. “It’s rough right now.”
Each month, Centerville UMC’s food bank feeds 700 to 1000 families, giving out 8,000-10,000 pounds of food, said Rev. Tommy Odum.
Needs have grown and the food bank is a vital ministry, he said.
“It meets a need that is there in the community. People need food and this helps meet that need.”
The food bank is a mission of love for Cox and her 40 volunteers. They work hard, they pray with and for those they serve, and they leave each shift sweaty but with smiles on their faces.
“It’s hard work, but we have a good time and we all walk out of there with smiles. We hear stories about what our customers are going through and it just makes us work harder,” Cox said. “This is where we’re supposed to be.”
In 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the food bank transitioned from a walk-up to a drive-up food bank. The growth of the ministry necessitated additional space, and this past February, the congregation dedicated a revamped building on the church’s campus as the Tom Shell Community Outreach Building.
Cox has also implemented cost saving and efficiency measures, helping the ministry serve more food at the same cost. The church joined forces with the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank and is now able to purchase meat and other food at a substantial savings.
The ministry defines who the congregation is as disciples of Jesus, said Rev. Odum, as people who love and serve others as Jesus did.
“The Bible tells us they will know who we are by the way we love one another. It also tells us that we were his long before we knew him,” he said. “If people can see the way we love one another in the food pantry and if they can see the way we love people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, that is going to help the church grow and the mission of the church overall, which is to make disciples of Christ.”