Donalsonville’s Friendship United Methodist Church is living up to its name.
Needy residents of Donalsonville and Seminole County have, for years, looked to Friendship UMC to help get them through hard times, often stopping by the church to ask for food or money. Church staff would oftentimes hand visitors a voucher to use at a local grocery store, allowing them to purchase items up to a certain amount. At the end of the month the grocery store would send the church a bill, which was paid for using the church’s discretionary fund.
After one 2009 month in which the church spent more than $500 on groceries, it was decided that a new system was needed.
“We spent well over $500 and we helped maybe 18 families,” said Friendship UMC’s pastor Rev. Kirk Loyless. “When we got the receipts we realized that not everybody was using it to buy just good food … and we thought that there had to be a better way to do this.”
Church leaders discussed their options, researched alternatives, talked to other churches and, after making contact with Second Harvest of South Georgia, decided to establish the Friendship United Methodist Church Food Bank ministry.
Today, with its monthly Manna Drop, the food bank serves 250 to 300 families and distributes 10,000 – 12,000 pounds of food each month.
Held from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month, the Friendship UMC Food Bank’s Manna Drop is a monthly outreach to the community where needy residents can receive pre-packed boxes of food. The boxes of food, bought from Second Harvest of South Georgia, cost the church about $3 each; if each item was bought individually in a store they would total more than $100.
In 2010, Friendship UMC purchased 133,331 pounds of food at a total cost of $7,759.13. In December alone, the food bank distributed 23,653 pounds of food to those in need. And this past January, 309 families – 889 individuals – received food boxes that helped supplement their monthly food needs.
Each month dozens of volunteers from around the community gather together to unload truckloads of food, pack boxes, file paperwork, greet guests and distribute food. Many of the 60 to 75 volunteers are Friendship UMC members, but many are not; some come from other area churches, some from civic clubs and others volunteer because they were once helped and now want to return the favor.
“We don’t have to call for volunteers,” said church member and food bank volunteer Wayne Worsham. “We just have plenty of volunteers show up every third Saturday; they just come and work. It’s been great to see what such a simple idea can do to bring a lot of people together and the way the other churches have come together and helped.”
Friendship UMC gives $500 each month to the food bank, and several other area churches have partnered with them, including First Presbyterian Church, St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church and Holy Neck Missionary Baptist Church; each church supports the food bank on a monthly basis. Other churches and ministerial alliances have shown their support by making donations and financial contributions.
One of the largest financial contributors to the church’s Food Bank has been Ameris Bank. During the month of October, Ameris Bank held a food drive in competition other Ameris Bank branches. Besides collecting 3,755 items of food and more than $300, the Ameris Bank of Donalsonville received matching funds from their corporate office, which amounted to $2,100.
With the money donated by Ameris Bank, the church was able to start a new program called Backpack Friends. Each week different groups within the church volunteer to pack 50 individual bags of “kid-friendly” foods that help children receive necessary nourishment during the weekends. The names of the children are furnished by Seminole County School System and the school distributes the bags to the children on Friday afternoons.
“The teachers say that they can tell a difference in the children,” Rev. Loyless said. “The children are now coming in on Monday ready to work and not as hungry, wondering when they are going to get their next meal.”
Ruby Holt, a food bank volunteer and the Friendship UMC office administrator, says that the outreach efforts show that church members care about those in their community.
“It shows to our community that our church cares,” she said. “And it’s as rewarding for us as it is for the people who get the bags of food each month.”
Worsham got involved with the food bank to be able to make a difference.
“We’re not all able to go to another part of the country or another part of the world to do mission work, but there are a lot of needs locally that are often overlooked, and this was an easy way for us to reach out to the community and do mission work here. Sometimes we think we’ve got to build a house or take a trip to South America or Africa, and sometimes we think it takes something monumental to do something for the Lord, and we don’t realize that we can do something two hours a month in our own community. Sometimes we think we have to do something on a grand scale and we really don’t. We don’t have to change the whole world – just our little part of it.”