What started on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, with just a handful of people has grown into a ministry that serves more than 300 people each week.
Every Thursday afternoon, volunteers with Richmond Hill United Methodist Church’s Food for the Soul ministry deliver more than 300 hot meals to needy Richmond Hill residents. Similar to the well-known “Meals on Wheels” program, Food for the Soul provides a hot meal to anyone who requests one – no questions asked.
Begun as a traditional soup kitchen, Food for the Soul evolved into a meal-delivery ministry when very few people took advantage of the soup kitchen. What started out feeding four or five Richmond Hill residents has grown tremendously, organizers say.
“It’s a need in this community,” said Diana South, chair of Food for the Soul. While some consider the Savannah suburb to be a fairly affluent area, the ministry’s volunteers see the need. “We deliver to areas people don’t even know exist,” South said.
So every Thursday at noon, 10 to 12 volunteers gather to cook, prepare and box the meals and another eight to 10 volunteers deliver them.
The ministry’s mission is twofold – to feed people’s stomachs and souls. Volunteers place a Bible verse on each food container and, if asked, will pray with and for those they serve.
“The main purpose is to get the word of God out,” South said. “We try and let them know that somebody cares and that God is there with them always and He is using us to help them.”
The ministry has seen an increase in requests during the past two years, South said. While about 40 percent of those they serve are elderly and on a fixed income, many others who have requested meal assistance have recently lost a job or are living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet.
She tells of the woman who – trying to keep from losing her home - can pay her mortgage, but can barely feed her kids. There’s also the older couple, living on their Social Security benefits, who are raising their four grandchildren. Similar stories abound.
“We’re helping fill in the gap,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have lost their jobs and have never had to ask for help before and hate to … but need help for a short time.”
While it began at Richmond Hill UMC, Food for the Soul is an ecumenical ministry; volunteers from five area churches prepare and deliver the meals each week.
St. Anne’s Catholic Church, Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church, Bethel Baptist Church and New Beginnings Community Church share the responsibilities.
“What really makes it unique are all the different churches working together,” South said. “It just really shows how it’s all about what’s in your heart. It’s all of us with a common goal of reaching people and showing them God’s word.”
Food for the Soul co-chair Mary Burns has volunteered with the ministry since it began. A member of Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church, Burns saw a notice in the local newspaper and decided to get involved. Her husband Ron, a Catholic, joined her.
“It’s a wonderful ministry,” she said. “I think what really got my husband and me committed to it was going out and delivering the meals to the people; they are so thankful.”
Burns, who helps cook the meals every fourth Thursday, sees God providing for both those who are being served and those who are serving.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in need of something or someone and the Lord just supplies our need,” she said. “It’s just amazing to me how the Lord works.”
Part of God’s provision comes through local grocery stores and restaurants. Publix, Food Lion and Baldinos donate fresh bread, desserts and produce. The donations allow the ministry to give a loaf of bread, a dessert and a fruit or lettuce salad with each meal.
While delivering meals, volunteers noticed that some the residents had pets, and one volunteer took it upon herself to provide food for the pets.
The ministry runs solely on donations and gifts, South said. While it doesn’t receive budgeted funds, the church does provide the facility, equipment and allows the ministry to use the church van. Church members have been very generous in their giving, she said.
Richmond Hill UMC pastor Rev. Glenn Martin has helped deliver meals and has seen the need firsthand.
“There’s poverty at our door like there is at every other door,” he said. “It opens people’s eyes to the need.”
Serving others is so important to the church that members of the church’s upcoming confirmation classes will volunteer with Food for the Soul. Each week, two confirmands will help deliver meals as part of their confirmation process.
“The purpose is to teach them hands-on missions to learn that, if you’re going to accept Christ and become part of His church, you’re committing to be of service, not just to being present,” Rev. Martin said. “They’ll be putting their hands to action.”
Through their service with the ministry, some volunteers have accepted Christ and begun professing their faith. Several have joined Richmond Hill UMC or other churches, South said.
“Through it all, everybody who is there realizes that the Lord is the one responsible, where they may not have known that before,” she said. “I watch the Lord’s work go on each time I’m there. It just amazes me.”