By the Rev. Darlene L. Kelley
NEWBERRY—The Rev. Amanda Geddings Richardson opens a box of canned chicken and slides it across the table. Jackie Holmes, councilwoman from the 5th District of Newberry, places a tin of the chicken in her box and moves on to the mound of crackers, inching along the table, filling her container.
Holmes is one of 23 volunteers working on a wintry Thursday to box up donations at O’Neal Street United Methodist Church, where Richardson is pastor. O’Neal Street is now home to a new food ministry: God’s Abundance for All People.
Above the tables are signs: Two soups, two vegetables, two pastas, and on and on through the food groups across the spacious room. The signs ensure an equal distribution of the non-perishable, donated food items heading to a senior housing complex on Saturday morning.
Board member Liz MacDonald looks across the room at the new freezer she acquired as a donation from Lowe’s. “Ask and you shall receive,” she says, and everyone knows she is smiling behind her mask.
The freezer will come in handy. God’s Abundance is just getting started. The new ministry hopes to distribute food weekly and plans to eventually include prepared meals in their mission, but organizing and operating a new food ministry during a pandemic has been a challenge, evidenced by more than the pile of masks and hand sanitizer at the entrance.
Financially stretched and facing their own challenges, the Harvest Hope Food Bank is not accepting new applications this winter, and God’s Abundance believes partnering with the food bank will be vitally important. Becoming a partner agency with Harvest Hope will make the acquisition of food much easier and far less expensive. At present, the new ministry depends on donations from the community, relying heavily on the churches involved in the mission.
An ecumenical endeavor, God’s Abundance includes Christians throughout the town of Newberry and the surrounding area, both clergy and laity. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Baptists and Methodists all gather together, volunteering to help those facing food insecurity in their community, and several denominations are represented on the new mission’s board of directors. Centrally located, O’Neal Street UMC is the mission’s center and houses the donated food items and the community clothes closest that will also be part the ministry. O’Neal Street’s pastor, Richardson, is also chair of the board.
Many hands make light work, the adage teaches, and the volunteers with God’s Abundance prove the proverb right. More than 125 boxes are packed within an hour. Piled high on tables around the room, the donations are ready for distribution.
On Saturday morning, two volunteers from Central UMC back their trucks up to the door to be loaded. Volunteers follow the trucks to the Regency Senior housing complex. A volunteer working at a second senior housing unit will oversee food distribution there, and the remaining boxes will be taken to a free medical clinic in the community.
“Good morning!” a volunteer greets a senior as she opens her door. “We’ve got a box of food for you!”
Richardson and her husband, Chris, carry boxes of pet food across the complex, and anyone with a dog or a cat is welcome to a bag.
A box of food for her and the kibble for her cherished pet delights one senior with a joyful, little dog.
“Thank you, thank you, so very much!” She beams as a volunteer places the food on her kitchen table.
The dog seems grateful too, wagging his tail and licking the hand of the volunteer.
According to Feeding America, a nonprofit national network of food banks, nearly 5.3 million senior citizens currently face hunger in the United States, an increase of 38 percent since 2001. Feeding America warns that at the current rate, the number of food-insecure seniors may grow to more than 8 million by 2050. Many seniors face the choice of paying for their medication or buying food, and poor nutrition and hunger only add to declining health. Isolation, food insecurity and chronic illness plague seniors in every community in our nation. The pandemic only makes matters worse.
God’s Abundance for All People hopes to eventually serve anyone facing hunger in the community, but starting with seniors seemed a wise and compassionate choice. Seniors often live alone and struggle with transportation options. Delivering boxes of nutritional food right to their doors seemed like the right thing to do.
“We’re giving more than a box of food,” Richardson declares. “We’re giving hope.”
For more on God’s Abundance or how to help: P.O. Box 675, Newberry, SC 29108.
Kelley pastors Mount Pleasant UMC, Pomaria, and is a member of the mission’s board of directors.