By Jessica Brodie
SIMPSONVILLE—How does comfort food help say “Jesus loves you”? Just ask Hopewell United Methodist Church.
Hopewell members gathered, assembled, cooked and donated 160 casseroles of homemade macaroni and cheese all to share the love of Jesus Christ with people in their community at Thanksgiving.
Dubbed “Macaroni Mayhem,” the project started last year on a significantly smaller scale. Hopewell UMC often supports the James Monroe Mission House, a ministry of nearby Trinity UMC, Fountain Inn, which feeds and clothes thousands in the Upstate of South Carolina. Hopewell member Steve Jackson heard the nonprofit was giving away turkeys to families in need last Thanksgiving and asked whether they’d like some mac and cheese, too. James Monroe organizers said yes, so Hopewell gathered items and then assembled about 30 casseroles for them.
But when Jackson found out a lot more than 30 families came for help, he decided Hopewell could do better. He challenged his church this Thanksgiving to donate 160 casseroles—and they said yes.
This fall, the people of Hopewell gathered more than 600 pounds of food, including noodles, eggs, gallons of milk and cheese, then gathered at the church the Saturday before Thanksgiving to cook the noodles.
It took about five hours to cook all the noodles using big fish cookers. Then after church on Sunday, more than two dozen men, women and children gathered to assemble 13x9-inch casserole dishes with all the ingredients for delicious homecooked mac and cheese. Each were frozen, ready to cook, with a note from Hopewell on top providing ingredients, instructions and a note of blessing from Hopewell to each recipient.
“The response was fantastic. We knocked out 160, assembled with lids and a label on top, in two hours,” Jackson said, praising the hard work of everyone at his church who pitched in to help.
Teams took about 100 of the casseroles to James Monroe Mission House that afternoon and delivered the rest the next day.
Each casserole feeds about 10-12 people, ultimately providing about 1,600 meals for hungry people at a time when many feel forgotten.
Jackson said he isn’t surprised Hopewell was able to do so much, and next year, they plan to do even more.
“This is a smaller church, but there are amazing people here,” Jackson said. “The atmosphere hits you in the face right when you walk in, and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. As our pastor says, it’s not ‘go, stay at home and tell nobody.’ It’s ‘go scream it from the mountaintop.’ A lot of great things are going on here, not just mac and cheese.”
The Rev. Don Brown, Hopewell’s pastor, said he’s incredibly proud of his congregation for embracing a mission challenge that was fully laity driven—in fact, he was out of town at a conference when his church assembled the casseroles.
“I love any mission project that forces us to turn ourselves inside out,” Brown said. “We guard greatly here against becoming an ‘attractional church.’ We don’t want to be centered on ourselves because that’s the recipe for the death of a church, so we push the phrase ‘going beyond the walls and finding ways to minister to folks in new ways.’”
Mac and cheese is definitely a “new way,” Brown said—a nontraditional way of reaching out to others in the name of Jesus, with no possibility of getting anything in return.
“We’re either going to missioners or evangelists, but we’re going beyond the walls one way or the other,” Brown said.
For next year, Jackson is hoping to challenge other area churches to do something similar in their community. Anyone who would like more information on the project can contact the church at http://hopewellumcsimpsonville.com