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Darien UMC’s food program feeds hundreds of at-risk neighbors


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Every two to three weeks, nearly 300 McIntosh County residents receive a knock on their door. When they open it, a bag full of food sits on the porch.

Since March, Darien United Methodist Church has delivered bags of non-perishable food items to older and vulnerable residents of the community. It’s an effort to help keep those most at risk of contracting COVID-19 at home and out of grocery stores, said Ad Poppell, who heads Darien UMC’s Emergency Food Distribution program.

“We saw and acknowledged the need to protect the at-risk community,” he said. “We thought if there was nothing else we could do we could help keep them out of grocery stores with our deliveries. So that was the driving force behind the emergency food project. We want to keep them as safe as we can.”

They began with just a handful of people, delivering to about 20 a week. As word spread and needs have grown, so have their deliveries. Eight delivery volunteers travel the sprawling county every two to three weeks, now delivering food to nearly 300 families, from South Newport in the north to Harris Neck and Shellman Bluff in the east and all the way out to Sapelo Island.

The ministry has received generous support from the community. In November, the Darien Police Department raised funds to buy turkeys for everyone on the route and will do so again for Christmas. Peach World donated pecans, a local pizza restaurant gives discounted rates on pizzas, and the community supports the ministry with monetary donations. So far, nearly $50,000 has been given to fund the feeding ministry.

“The Lord has been good to us,” said volunteer Diane Martin. “We haven’t had to go out and search for money.”

The congregation has a heart for the community, said Rev. Bruce Morgan. And despite the pandemic, it’s still active and serving its community.

“Darien UMC has just been phenomenal about having a vision of reaching out to its community and being the body of Christ in the community and witnessing to folks. They’re doing the work of the Lord, planting seeds, and loving people,” he said. “There are different levels of participation: some write the checks, some pack the bags, and some deliver the food, but it all boils down to the same thing: these people have a vision of who Jesus is and it drives them to serve.”

For Poppell, the pandemic has put a spotlight on the community’s needs, and he says serving in the church’s Emergency Food Distribution program has been one of the most rewarding things he’s done.

“The mission field is our backyard right now,” Poppell said. “I think that every church should be focused not only on the mission field abroad, but on the mission field at home. The need is here, and we need to take those opportunities that God provides us.”

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