According to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, one in eight Middle Tennesseans struggles with hunger on a daily basis. Factors contributing to food insecurity include job instability, overwhelming medical bills, inability to drive, and lack of access to programs available to help, such as federally supported SNAP and WIC programs.
Thanks in part to funding from the Golden Cross Foundation, two Middle Tennessee United Methodist churches are reaching out and helping individuals and families in their communities through food ministry programs.
Founded in 2009, Leeville (Lebanon, Tennessee) UMC’s SALT – Serving at the Lord’s Table – food pantry program initially served people who were living in tents at Timberline Campground in Wilson County.
“At the time, the economy wasn’t good and people were losing their jobs and homes. Brother Larry Pedigo – a former pastor at Leeville – and other church members were determined to do something to help the campground’s residents. Each week, they took food and helped stocked a small onsite food pantry,” said SALT pantry coordinator Joyce Gaines.
Over time, other area churches joined the ministry. By 2014, the economy improved and needs at Timberline decreased. Ministry leaders and volunteers reevaluated the ministry’s mission. While Wilson County has several food banks and food pantries, SALT volunteers realized they could serve area residents in a unique way.
“Most food pantries require recipients to come to them,” said Gaines. “SALT volunteers deliver boxes of food twice a month to low-income seniors. Senior adults frequently have difficulty getting to the grocery store due to health problems, limited mobility, and/or lack of transportation. In addition, fixed incomes, medication costs, unexpected repairs, and high utility bills means seniors can’t always keep food in their pantries.”
Due to increasing demand for food box deliveries – SALT volunteers deliver boxes to more than 110 households twice a month – the original pantry space began bursting at the seams.
“In 2018, we began planning for a 900-square-foot pantry addition,” said Gaines. “Since God has regularly supplied our needs, our pastor at the time – Brother Bill Owen – encouraged us to dream big.”
Donations came in from church partners and regular supporters. Halfway to meeting their goal of $20,000, SALT members learned about, applied for, and received a Golden Cross Foundation grant for $7,845.
“That gave us the money we needed to begin,” said Gaines. “We received a building permit in April 2019 and had a groundbreaking ceremony in May.”
God continued to affirm the SALT ministry by providing volunteers and materials needed for the pantry expansion.
“There have been so many times when someone offered a service or materials to us before we even asked,” said Gaines. “For example, one of our volunteers was talking to a young man who had grown up attending Leeville UMC who owns a construction business. When he heard about our need to lift 30-foot pre-made roof trusses onto the building, he said he would bring his crew over to take care of it. By the end of the week, we had a new roof.”
Today, SALT’s vision is that no senior in Wilson County will go hungry. Volunteers – many who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s – hope to involve more church partners, enlisting them to have regular food drives, provide financial support, and send volunteers. They also encourage churches and social service groups to refer seniors in need to the program.
“I have had hospice workers, social workers, home health nurses, and other caregivers call and ask me to put people on a waiting list after they have gone into clients’ homes and realized the clients have no food,” said Gaines. “I have heard the relief in their voices when I told them we don’t have a waiting list – we can take care of their clients’ needs right away.”
Another feeding ministry in Centertown, Tennessee, was started in 2012 after Centertown UMC members learned about area children who were going to school hungry. Initially three volunteers prepared 20 boxes of food every Wednesday to give to families. As word spread, the program grew. Now 25 volunteers—most over 60 years old—prepare and hand out or deliver more than 220 boxes a week.
“Each Wednesday food is picked up from the Feed America First warehouse in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by one of our volunteers,” said Centertown UMC member Michelle Bodey. “It is then delivered to our church fellowship hall where it is sorted and boxed for distribution. More than half of the boxes go to people over 65.”
The food is distributed from 2:30 to 3 p.m. to anyone who drives through the church’s parking lot. During this time, volunteers form a prayer circle and invite those receiving boxes to join for praises and prayer requests.
The program’s impact and blessings are as varied as the individuals and families it serves. “This program is awesome!” says recipient Kimberly S. “It really helps me and my mama. She is very frail and I take care of her. We are so blessed to have this help. My favorite part, though, is the prayer circle. I rushed to get here today so I wouldn’t miss it. It has encouraged me pray at home and start reading my Bible more.”
Community residents Larry and Barbara T. also receive a box each week. “This is wonderful!” Barbara said. “Larry is diabetic and has a lot of health issues. We are both on Medicare and when we go in the ‘donut hole’ for prescription drug coverage, that cuts into our grocery money. This program really helps us out, especially the vegetables, fruit, and yogurt.”
Because the program is funded entirely on donations, church members and ministry volunteers are particularly thankful for the grants provided by the Golden Cross Foundation.
“We received the first grant for $10,000 in 2016,” said Bodey. “We used that money to refurbish a walk-in freezer and cooler allowing us to properly handle and store a larger amount of food. The storage unit purchased using money from the second grant totaling $3,000 gave us much-needed space to store non-perishable items.
“God has constantly provided for the needs of our ministry—from the food to distribution boxes to the money we need to operate,” Bodey said. “We have had the opportunity to pray with and minister to many who do not attend church. While we are currently limited on space, we hope that this ministry will continue and grow.”
If your church needs funding assistance for new or ongoing ministries and services with older adults in the Tennessee Conference, visit https://www.goldencrossfoundation.org/application-guidelines/ for grant application information or contact Kent McNish, executive director of The Golden Cross Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-479-6175.