By Kara Witherow, Editor
Ellabell United Methodist Church has taken to the streets to share the love of Jesus.
Every weekday during the third week of each month, church members stand on a busy street outside the local Dollar General and hand out sacks of food. It’s a way to take church to the community, said volunteer and Ellabell UMC member Marilyn Page.
Knowing people might be reluctant to go to a church, the Fishes and Loaves ministry team decided to hand out the food bags about a half mile away from the church building. People still know they’re from the congregation, Page said, but they’re not intimidated or reluctant to stop.
“Not everybody is going to come to a church,” she said. “We want to make sure that our community knows we're here and always looks to us for their needs.”
Like many small, rural towns, the past few years have hit Ellabell hard. Many struggle to pay their bills, buy groceries, and put gas in their cars, Page said. The church wanted to help where it could.
“There’s a lot of poverty in our community. We didn’t want anyone to be hungry.”
On Sunday evening, bags are packed with chips, cookies, candy, and fruit. Each morning, fresh ham sandwiches are made and packed into coolers. For an hour and a half Monday through Friday – sooner if the food runs out – volunteers pass out water and bags of food to anyone who stops. People often pause to talk and pray as they pick up food.
“We have been intentional in being out there,” Page said. “We’ve gotten to know people and our community has drawn closer to us through this. I think it shows that we care and that we want to be a part of our community.”
The group hands out 500 bags of food each month – 100 each day they serve. Some people are amazed the food is free and others stop just to donate money to the ministry.
“It’s a wonderful outreach and I’m amazed at the simplicity of it and how effective it is,” said Rev. Patrick Brannen, pastor of Ellabell UMC. “Jesus met people over meals, and it’s something that seems to work very well.”
Volunteering with the Fishes and Loaves ministry is also a great way to meet people, said Rev. Brannen, who was just appointed to the church.
“I love it; it’s a lot of fun and a good way to meet the community,” he said.
For Page, it’s just one more way to let people know she cares.
“We’ve all been in places where they are. We don’t want to stay closed up in a church,” she said. “We always try to show everyone God’s love.”