By Jessica Connor
SUMMERVILLE – It’s said she rules the church food bank with an iron fist. “A tough girl,” her pastor calls her.
But Gladys Edge’s eyes tell a different story, gleaming with emotion as she recounts the woman with cancer trying to feed seven grandkids after their mother was killed; the man with a criminal record and six mouths to feed who can’t get government help because of his shaky past; the woman with an armor of “attitude” to hide her shame and fear about having to beg for a meal.
“She would’ve starved if not for Murray Church,” Edge said.
For the past 11 years, God’s Kitchen at Murray United Methodist Church, Summerville, has been feeding the hungry in Dorchester County any way it can.
The all-volunteer team coordinated by Edge offers two regular times – Mondays and Fridays from 9:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. – plus an emergency food pantry if anyone is in desperate need.
Sometimes they don’t know how they’ll be able to feed everyone who comes asking. But they step out on blind faith, knowing the Lord will provide.
And provide He does.
“We’ve never had to turn nobody away,” Edge said. “All my life I’ve wanted to do something to help others. We’re doing what God wants us to do: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the homeless. That’s the reason.”
The Rev. James Cannion, Murray UMC pastor, serves as the official director of God’s Kitchen, but he is quick to give Edge and the other primary volunteers full credit. He said he is proud of his church members for stepping up and being the true hands and feet of Christ in the world.
“This is what we’re called to do: to reach out and do ministry,” Cannion said. “In our denomination, we know we have to reach out. That’s what we do. We don’t worry about the money. We just do.”
God’s Kitchen started very slowly. Church members used to keep a bit of food in the back, and one man asked for it once. So they started keeping bags of food on-hand, then maybe a bit of salmon, for families in need. Then Edge and some of the other women attended a meeting about partnering with Lowcountry Food Bank.
That was 11 years ago. Today, God’s Kitchen feeds hundreds of people each month from all over Dorchester County. They average 87 families a month, or 253 individuals. In the summertime, they get “a whole lot of children,” Edge said – with schools out of session, kids don’t get free or reduced lunches from schools, or weekend backpacks stocked with food.
More men come these days than women, and lots of senior citizens, who live on tiny pensions or Social Security stipends that run out, often long before the month is over.
“And they’re all different – some come in here crying. Some think, ‘Hey, do what I say’ and don’t like to follow the rules. Some are very ashamed, say things like, ‘I never thought I’d be this low to ask for food,’” Edge said, sighing. “It upsets you to know people are hungry.”
They haunt her and the other volunteers, who say they help for the simplest of reasons: they like to help. They can do it. They want to give back, like Jesus called them to do.
“I know it’s the right thing to do,” said volunteer Betty Deweese. “I have the time, so I volunteer.”
Cannion said God’s Kitchen is also an evangelism opportunity for the church –after all, there are many unchurched people out there whose hearts need just as much nourishment as their bodies.
Kim M. Bryant, who works full-time with the school system, said she helps any chance she can.
“God saved our souls, and we’ve come to salvation and know what it’s all about, so it’s our responsibility to serve the community and to share the good news that Jesus saves,” Bryant said. “This is our way to share that.”
Through their partnership with Lowcountry Food Bank, God’s Kitchen is able to receive donated items, which are split among 300-plus other local food banks. They also get the opportunity to purchase vastly discounted items, usually at 14 to 18 cents a pound.
God’s Kitchen gets food and money donations from the church and its members, as well as donations from nearby Bethany UMC and Bethany’s Friendship Class, the St. Paul Fish and Loaf Sunday School Class (children bring food and hygiene items), the general community and the grocery retailer Food Lion. They also do food drives a few times a year. Volunteers say they are astounded at people’s generosity.
“Look at this,” Edge says, eyes round as she holds out some top-quality steaks Food Lion donated to the food bank and points to the label. “They’re not even close to the sell-by date. They don’t have to do this, but they do.”
Sometimes, the volunteers will see a nearly bare pantry and wonder how in the world they will be able to feed the hungry the next day or the next week.
“But we always believe,” Edge said, shaking her head. “I say, ‘Come here tomorrow,’ and it’ll be full. The more we give the more we receive.”
Running a food bank is more than just having a kind heart and a willing spirit, though those are the key ingredients. In order to receive government donations, God’s Kitchen must work with the Department of Social Services and other federal and state agencies, documenting children, race, income and more by the tenth of every month. There are forms and more forms, rules and more rules. And Edge is a stickler for those rules.
Edge laughs, recalling the words of the Rev. Wyatt Minton, who helped start the food bank: “Always follow the rules. Wyatt Minton said, ‘I’m not going to jail for a can of government beans.’ And I’m not! That always stuck with me.”
But you can give to the poor and follow the rules, and God’s Kitchen is proof positive. “We are feeding the hungry,” Edge said. “We are helping. You go home at night, and you think, ‘Maybe that person has food tonight because of us.’”
To help God’s Kitchen with food or money donations, call the church at 843-875-6520, email [email protected] or mail donations to P.O. Box 233, Summerville, SC 29483.