By Jessica Brodie
BLENHEIM—A county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state is now getting much-needed food assistance throughout the year thanks to the efforts of a small, rural United Methodist church.
Parnassus UMC, a 20-member congregation of mostly older adults in the Pee Dee region, held an annual food drive every fall, donating the items to a local family or two in need. One year, a member asked church pastor the Rev. Alex Stoops why the church didn’t collect food all year.
“I told him that being that he was on the council, he might recommend doing this year-round,” Stoops said.
The member did—and the council said yes.
In 2019, Parnassus launched its year-round food ministry, something Stoops said is motivating church members to be all they can for Jesus. Stoops said Buzzy Cowan came up with the idea to take the food ministry from an annual drive to a year-round ministry for the church.
The ministry is word-of-mouth, which Stoops said ensures that people receiving assistance are genuinely in need, and church members are encouraged simply to pick up a little extra for the food pantry when they are doing their individual grocery shopping. Each week, Stoops said, certain items are identified as “in need,” which helps ensure the pantry stocks a wide variety of items
Then, when the church learns of a food-assistance need, members pack a couple of bags of food, as well as a copy of an Upper Room devotional, and deliver the items directly to the individual. The church is ordering tote bags with the church name so the food can also remind recipients that the content is a gift from God and packed with Christian love.
They also send food bags to a community food kitchen for the homeless in Bennettsville, the county seat.
“Most of our members are of retirement age, in their 70s or older, and physically they are limited as to what they can do, but they have the desire to help, and this is something they can all do,” Stoops said. “Everyone pitches in.”
Blenheim and Marlboro County in general is a low-income area with a majority elderly population, the church said. Many families comprise grandparents raising their grandchildren. Younger, working-age families are few, and most in the commute to another county for employment.
They store canned and dried food items in an unused room at the church that used to host a Sunday school class.
“The shelves that once held books now resemble a small store,” Stoops said. “One member, when she did inventory, aligned everything in a way that made it look like a professional supermarket.”
While their food bank does stock the typical fare of canned beans and dried food, Stoops said Parnassus members also try hard to shop for meats, as well as food children might enjoy. Around Thanksgiving, some members donated turkeys that were on sale, trying to provide for others the sort of food they, too, would like to receive.
“Everyone has fallen on hard times in their life, and we all know what it’s like to be without,” Stoops said. “It is nice to receive a gift from people who love you and find something special in that bag. That is our aim.
“There is a great need in our area, and our little church is doing what it can to help.”