South Georgia UM churches take action against hunger
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Nearly 49 million people in America face hunger. That’s one in six of the United States population – including more than one in five children. And a record 46.7 million Americans—one in five– now collect food stamps, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And since September is National Hunger Action Month, as dubbed by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, we wanted to highlight what a few local South Georgia United Methodist churches are doing to combat the growing hunger problem.
Guyton United Methodist Church partners with nearby Guyton Christian Church to operate The Fillin’ Station, a reclaimed filling station that has been turned into a food pantry. The Fillin’ Station, open every Tuesday and Thursday and one of five food banks in Effingham County, serves an average of 175 families each month. Guyton UMC members volunteer their time and donate food to the ministry, and the church supports it financially.
On the third Saturday morning of each month, nearly 300 people gather inside Colquitt United Methodist Church’s sanctuary. They fellowship with one another, listen to a devotional, and mingle while waiting for their numbers to be called. Once their number is called, they head to the church’s fellowship hall where they’re given two large brown grocery bags packed full of canned food, produce and frozen food. Trustees from the local jail who helped pack the bags of food the day before help carry their groceries out of the church.
“We are very blessed here,” said Estelle Thompson, who serves as co-director of the church’s food bank with her husband Ralph. “This ministry has been great for our church and the community.”
Funds to support the food pantry are generated through the church’s Agape Store ministry, which takes in donated household items, clothing, furniture and other goods and sells them for a small profit.
What started 12 years ago as a small ministry serving 25 families has grown into a community-wide ministry serving 264 families.
“It’s a real team, church and community effort,” Thompson said. “We all do the best we can to meet whatever need comes our way.”
Every Thursday afternoon, volunteers at Douglas First United Methodist Church’s Our Daily Bread food pantry stock boxes with three cans each of fruit, soup, and vegetables. In each they include a box of crackers, a box of cookies, a jar each of peanut butter and jelly, canned meat, macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, rice, tomatoes, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, cereal, some sort of milk product, and various other food items. An invitation to visit the church is always included in the box.
They try to have 12-15 boxes ready at all times so that they will always have some ready when the 10-15 families they serve each week arrive.
“The food in the box is enough to feed a family of four for a week or two if they are careful,” said Jan Adams, who runs the food bank.
The food bank also tries to keep toilet paper, baby diapers, adult diapers, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other toiletries on hand.
They also keep “snack bags” handy to give to people who stop by asking for food and don’t have referral cards from local agencies. As a food bank that operates on a referral system, several community agencies refer individuals and families to Our Daily Bread. Those who request food present a referral card in order to receive a box of food.
“We don’t like to send anyone away empty handed,” Adams said. “So we have food in small gift bags prepared anytime someone without a referral card comes and asks. Especially those who are transient, those are better than a box – a snack bag is easier to walk or ride a bike with.”
Adams says that the generosity of the church, the volunteers and the community help Our Daily Bread keep its doors open.
“Our church family has been extremely generous, and we’ve had a lot of donations from within the community,” she said. The community and church have been very supportive. If it weren’t for all of the generosity and for all of the volunteers’ hard work, we wouldn’t be able to be open and serve people.”
And serving others, she says, is what it’s all about.
“Besides feeding people who need food with food, you want to feed their souls, too. We hope that we’re doing something in people’s lives.”
Tell us – what is your church doing to combat hunger in your area? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Your church or ministry may be featured in a future issue.