By Kara Witherow, Advocate Contributor
Food sustains, nourishes, gives life.
It can also connect, bring hope, and convey love.
Since last September, that’s what Cooks Union United Methodist Church, through its Meals of Love ministry, has delivered to about 20 people each week.
Every Wednesday, Rev. Jean Watson, pastor of Cooks Union UMC in Colquitt, Ga., and church member Kaye B. Cook dedicate their entire day to cooking, baking, packing, and delivering meals. Both women enjoy cooking and serving those who otherwise may not have a warm, hearty meal to eat, Rev. Watson said.
When considering how the congregation could best serve the Colquitt community, Rev. Watson and Cook discussed their talents and abilities. Cook, a former caterer, suggested the idea of a feeding ministry.
“I love to cook, she loves to cook, and when you love to cook it’s really not a chore,” Rev. Watson said. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the elderly and needy in our community.”
Most of the people Rev. Watson, Cook, and the Meals of Love ministry feed are homebound, but some are sick or recovering from an injury or illness.
Sort of an enhanced Meals on Wheels ministry, when dinner is delivered, not only does the recipient receive a hot, homemade meal, he or she also gets a visit and prayer.
Meals of Love is more than just a feeding ministry, Rev. Watson and Cook said. It lets people know they’re loved and not alone.
“I’ve had one lady hug my neck and tell me I’m about the only person she sees all week,” said Cook, who, prior to moving to Colquitt, owned and operated Southern Elegance Catering at Albany First United Methodist Church for 32 years. “I always hug her. She tells me she loves getting a hug. And that means something. This kind of lets them know the church hasn’t forgotten about them.”
A self-proclaimed “people person,” Meals of Love gives Rev. Watson additional avenues to serve and speak to those outside the walls of the church.
“It gives me an opportunity to minister to people, too. One woman recently lost four people in her family. I let her know she’s not out there all by herself, we’re praying for her. She may or may not ever come to church; that’s not the important thing. The important thing is letting her know there’s someone out there.”
The meals Rev. Watson and Cook prepare are homemade and homestyle. They’ve cooked chicken just about every way it can be prepared, from fried chicken and baked chicken to chicken and dumplings, chicken and rice casserole, and chicken and dressing. This past week Rev. Watson made Chicken Spectacular, a one-dish meal with chicken, rice, soup, green beans, and several other ingredients. They’ve also served hamburger steak, pork steaks, meatloaf, and dozens of other dishes.
In addition to some type of meat, dessert, bread, and a vegetable are included. Rev. Watson, who loves to bake, always adds thick slices of homemade pound cake, dollops of banana pudding, big brownies, or a couple of cookies. A sticker that reads, “Meals of Love, Cooks Union UMC” is placed on top of the take-out box. The servings are large, enough for at least two meals.
While Rev. Watson and Cook prepare and plate the meals, they have a team to help deliver. For much of the first year, Rev. Watson and Cook funded the ministry themselves. This year the ministry received a $3,500 grant from the Southwest District and the church included Meals of Love in its budget.
The team is grateful for the support and sees the difference the ministry makes.
“It gives us a sense of fulfillment to do something that God has commanded us to do in his teaching, to help people and do what you can,” Cook said. “I just believe this is God’s purpose for us, that we take care of other people when we can. He wants us to take care of other people.”