By Jessica Connor
COLUMBIA—In the sunny kitchen and fellowship hall at Francis Burns United Methodist Church, helpers swing into action, ladling baked beans into tiny plastic cups and teasing each other about who is supposed to do what.
Four young men stand at food stations, dishing out already-made meals into child-sized portions, their good-natured ribbing and laughter echoing. Cooks are busy clanking and stirring in the kitchen beyond, prepping today’s hot meal—hot dogs, beans and coleslaw—which will be lunch for hundreds of hungry children across the Midlands. Around the room, long rows of folding tables stand ready, carefully labeled with their destination and stacked with boxes and plastic cutlery. Once those boxes are filled, around 10:30 a.m., they’ll head out to 27 sites from right down the street to as far away as Harbison, serving apartment complexes, nonprofit daycares, churches and Boys and Girls Clubs.
The whole thing is cleaned up by noon, and the process starts over again the next day. Five days a week, all summer long. All to help hungry kids.
The program is called the Summer Food Service Program, a South Carolina Department of Social Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture operation held and run by Francis Burns, which employs 35 people all summer to purchase, prepare and deliver about 1,200 lunch meals, 850 breakfasts and 800 snacks per day for children in poverty.
“So many children are dependent on the school lunch program during the school year, so this is so children can have access to meals during the summer, too,” said Nancy Bradshaw, member of Francis Burns and director of the food program, which has been sponsored by Francis Burns for the past seven years.
The Summer Food Service Program serves children aged 18 and younger who are in economic need, who receive the food through DSS- and USDA-approved sites. The sites choose two meal patterns, breakfast and lunch or lunch and snack. Three days a week they receive hot meals for the children and two days a week they receive cold meals. It’s grown from three people employed, and serving just 45 children, to employing 35 today. Four cooks staff the kitchen, seven pack the meals for delivery, and then a team of drivers and deliverers go out to five or six sites apiece.
Bradshaw said there is a great need for the food they provide.
“I was at one of the sites last week, and I talked to this mom who said, ‘I only get $x in food stamps, so I encourage my child to eat this food so our food stamp dollars go further,’” Bradshaw said. “If you can be that kind of assistance to families, how can we not do this?”
Adrinne Gee, kitchen director, said being able to help the children through the church she loves gives her a good feeling.
“I’ve seen kids where you pull up and, when they see the (food delivery) van, they get very excited,” Gee said.
A 12-year breast cancer survivor, she began to look at the world in terms of how she could help after she was in remission.
“Being that I got a chance to live again, I asked God, ‘What do you want me to do from here?’ and He said, ‘I want you to go out and help other people.’ So that’s what I do,” Gee said.
Francis Burns pastor the Rev. Ernest Etheredge said the food program is an example of how the Gospel is being lived out in a hurting and hungry world today.
“Jesus has called me to feed the hungry. It’s the heart of the Gospel, and that’s what the church is doing for a needy community that would not otherwise have a decent meal to eat,” Etheredge said. “This shows that the church—no matter what the size—can be involved, and that there are state and government agencies that are willing to partner if we extend our arms.”
Bradshaw and Gee said they hope other UMCs across South Carolina will consider teaming up with DSS and USDA to become a sponsor.
“It’s all about feeding the children, and it’s our only reason for being here,’ Bradshaw said.
To learn more about becoming a sponsor, or to find meal service locations in your county that are providing free meals to children, visit https://dss.sc.gov/content/customers/food/sfsp/index.aspx.
By Jessica Connor