By the Rev. Eric McKee Sr.
GREENVILLE—Salem United Methodist Church is a small, aging church located in what has become a multicultural, industrial area. We have been called “the church that feeds people” by those outside our church and, after hearing that, began using it as our motto. We generally have 35-40 at our Sunday worship services. There is only one neighborhood in our area that used to be teeming with our members. Several of our members still live there, but most are unable to come to church.
But God has instilled in us a heart for our community, and we have been running a food pantry called Rachel’s Cupboard for 19 years. We serve our clients with meal bags that contain two to three full meals and will feed two adults, plus extra items for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. We do not ask for proof of need or any financial documentation. We simply serve those who come based on the number and ages of those in their household. We do require identification.
We also distribute toiletries, socks, underwear and pop-top food bags for those who are homeless and special bags for children including instant hot breakfast cereal, crackers, fruit cups, etc. Last year we added coats and blankets to our ministries through the pantry and gave away 38 coats and 51 blankets.
Our other food ministry is our Monday night meal. Through our partnership with Project Host, we serve hot, delicious meals to anyone who comes. We serve these meals every Monday from 6-7 p.m. in our Family Life Center. We just started offering the food pantry service during this meal so that with the price of gas, clients would not have to come twice to get what they need.
Also, for the first time this year we planted a community garden that has allowed us to provide fresh vegetables to many of our clients and our elderly church members. Many people helped to get this going, but it is the brainchild of and passion for Jan Elliott.
So why are we telling this story and why now? We have seen a marked increase of approximately 33 percent in clients since June at both of our ministries. Our pantry has gone from serving 10 families per week to 14 families per week, and we are seeing more and more multigenerational households than ever before. In September, we saw our greatest increase when we served a total of 159 people with 100 bags of food through the pantry. Our Monday night meals have also increased from 40 per week to 60.
The recent economic downturn has increased the need for those in our community on fixed incomes, and it is only going to get worse. Even our president has said twice recently that we can expect food shortages this winter. These ministries are not a budget item for us. They are totally funded by donations from our members and our community’s businesses and social groups.
The need is great and becoming greater, so I am offering a challenge to every church great and small: What can your church do in obedience to our Lord Jesus’ command to “feed his sheep”? It doesn’t matter how small, how elderly or how remote your church is; you can do something to feed the bodies and the souls of those in need in your community.
May God bless you to be a blessing as he has for us. Remember, there is no such thing as a retired Christian. He expects to find us doing his work when he comes again.
McKee pastors Salem UMC, Greenville.