In times of trouble, death, turmoil and even during elections, the church has been the place where people gather and to which they turn when in need.
And now in Montgomery County, when people need food they again turn to the church.
Nepsey-Warren United Methodist Church has partnered with America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia to provide food for needy area residents. Since January 2010, Nepsey-Warren UMC and America’s Second Harvest’s Mobile Food Pantry have sorted, bagged and distributed approximately 45,000 pounds of food – six truck loads worth – to people in need.
“The church has always been our source,” said Nepsey-Warren UMC pastor Rev. Cleo Conaway. “The church was the place to find healing, and it’s that place again.”
According to the 2000 census, almost 20% of Montgomery County’s 8,300 residents live below the poverty line.
Joining forces with Second Harvest in 2008, the church is doing what it can to help relieve hunger in the area.
About 1,000 individuals, or 500 families, are served through Nepsey-Warren UMC and America’s Second Harvest; close to 15,000 pounds of food are handed out each time the Mobile Food Pantry comes to town.
A few times a year, nearly 40 volunteers meet early in the morning at the old Montgomery County community schoolhouse. As soon as the Second Harvest truck arrives, they create an assembly line to unload and sort the food. They work quickly to bag and distribute the thousands of items, some of which are perishable. Canned goods, bread, cheese, fresh vegetables, chicken, fruit, milk, juice, flour, rice, beans and more are loaded into bags.
They also move quickly because people have been lined up since 6:30 a.m.
The need is great, Rev. Conaway said, and has grown in recent years.
“There are people from all walks – all social statuses – that come,” she said. “People need assistance now that never needed assistance before.”
Designed to provide emergency food relief to residents who are elderly, disabled, low-income, unemployed or at risk, Second Harvest’s Mobile Food Pantry Program supplements the efforts of local food pantries that have limited storage and budgets and allows people to receive food directly. The Mobile Pantry also allows Second Harvest to serve locations of concentrated need where food banks don’t exist or where residents lack transportation to reach them.
Volunteers from Ebenezer United Methodist Church, Oakey Grove United Methodist Church, Nepsey-Warren UMC and the Mount Vernon Charge serve alongside volunteers from other local congregations and corrections officers from Wheeler County Correctional Facility.
“It’s just a wonderful program,” Rev. Conaway said. “It’s brought the community closer together, especially now with the economy the way it is.”
In September, the last time the mobile food pantry was open, more than 500 people lined up to receive food. Rev. Conaway expects similar size crowds when the Second Harvest trucks arrive again, on November 19 and December 10.
Raynita Smith, a volunteer and member of Nepsey-Warren UMC, sees firsthand the great need and finds fulfillment in helping others.
“To see the many people that come out, no matter what kind of weather we’re having, and line up all the way around the building and wait to receive the food makes me feel like the need is great,” she said. “When we stand before God and He asks us, ‘Did you feed the hungry?’ … I want to be able to say, ‘Yes, Lord!’”
Rev. Conaway has a passion for people and for making the church a place where people’s needs are met.
“The church was the place to go for food and for help,” she said. “It’s that place again. People can come to the church and know that, no matter what’s going on outside, the church is still the place where God desires for us to be healed and made well.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
To subscribe to the South Georgia Advocate, the official newspaper of the South Georgia Conference, mail your check, payable to "South Georgia Advocate," P.O. Box 660275 / Dallas, TX 75266-0275. Pay by credit card by calling 1.877.465.1685 or online. A one year subscription is $25 (or $23 for subscribers 65 and older). Keep up with the news of the South Georgia Conference.