By Jessica Connor
ORANGEBURG—It's a pretty Tuesday morning in Orangeburg, and the willing hands at St. Andrews United Methodist Church are at it again.
There, in the sunny, spacious church kitchen, a dozen volunteers are hard at work making salad and garlic bread, doling out desserts into Styrofoam boxes and ladling portions of steaming hot spaghetti into containers for their weekly citywide delivery to more than 65 homebound community members.
Two by two they go, hopping into cars and driving their hour and a half circuit to some of the poorest neighborhoods in Orangeburg, bringing a warm meal and a warm smile to the sick, elderly and mentally challenged.
We re just being His hands and feet, said Dorothy Smoak, founder of the ministry that has mobilized St. Andrews.
The food ministry is part of St. Andrews larger mission effort, Shepherd Ministry, which started two years ago and also includes a coat donation program and congregational care. When they first started the effort, in July 2010, they were feeding about 50 people a month. But thanks to a mass of willing hands and workers, not to mention strong visioning and leadership and a healthy dose of the divine, today St. Andrews shepherds are feeding about 500 people a month. They cook Mondays and Tuesdays, then deliver about 65 meals a week to homebound community members. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, they provide 85-100 food boxes a month, as well as offer an emergency food pantry for anyone in need. Then on the third Saturday of every month, they cook a big meal, taking about 125 plates to Cooperative Church Ministries of Orangeburg, plus deliver another 65-70 meals to the homebound. They also deliver child-friendly food to a local school for a hunger program, Into the Mouths of Babes, and they support a local church that does a Tuesday meal.
God has blessed it, Smoak said, noting some months they wonder where the food will come from, then poof “ God delivers. We stepped out in faith, and it s just grown into a great ministry.
Nancy Ayers, a lifetime member of St. Andrews and involved as a shepherd since the start, said the ministry has made the spirit-filled church become even more missional.
God just blessed that effort from the beginning, Ayers said.
Miracles do happen! said St. Andrews pastor the Rev. David Caughman, who has also been very active in Shepherd Ministry since he came to the church in July. He points out a sign that hangs prominently on the door to the kitchen: Faith is not believing that God can “ it is knowing that He will. Pastoring such a missional congregation is empowering to me.
And it is also very much needed. Orangeburg is a challenging place, Ayers said, noting the city s high unemployment rate and deep needs.
St. Andrews doesn t provide for the ministry in its budget. All operations are through donations. Two grocery stores donate food, and a local farmer gives the church 40-50 dozen eggs a week. Individual donations provide for any shortfalls, and the staff is all-volunteer.
Penny Salley, coordinator of the ministry since Smoak stepped down to be church lay leader, calls this the most rewarding work she has ever done in her life.
I wouldn t miss a day, Salley said, gushing about the smiles that light the faces of those who receive the food, and the appreciation they show that makes it all worthwhile. It makes you feel good. There are little miracles that happen every day up here. Everyone is so willing to work and put in their time. If they took this away from me, it d just kill me. It s just something that grabs you and keeps hold of you.
A blessing and a pleasure
The people who receive the food from St. Andrews use words like wonderful and blessing to describe how they feel about the help they are getting.
Barbara Williams has been getting a weekly meal from the shepherds since she got so sick she could no longer leave the house. Not only does she enjoy the meal, but the fellowship is priceless.
It s a big help, and the visiting, oh! These are the nicest ladies, and I appreciate them, Williams said.
Volunteers will often bring magazines and Upper Room devotions, as well as the food.
Mary Ann Wofford, who is homebound after a stroke with only her little dog Cookie for company, also expressed gratitude.
I think it s wonderful, she said, hugging her meal deliverer while chatting about her garden.
Ann Wright, who suffers from arthritis and also lives alone, said it s not about the food at all.
The joy you see in their faces, it s sincere, Wright said. It s caring from the heart, not the organization, and it radiates. They put it on me and I can t hold it in. I ve got to share it with someone
And for Cora Black, it feels good just knowing there are people out there who care enough to come week after week and help her.
After her hospital stay, I had to learn how to take care of myself all over again, and it s just a pleasure to have someone to come take care of and think about me “ a blessing and a pleasure, she said.
That warm, fuzzy feeling
But the volunteers say it s even more of a blessing to them.
It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling to bring someone a warm meal to eat, said Alice French from behind the wheel of her sports utility vehicle, which she drives week after week all over Orangeburg to deliver food to those in need. We form a relationship with them. Some take their meal and shut the door, but others are such a joy and talk to you.
Sherrie Gunn, who usually rides with French each week, has been helping with the ministry since she became unemployed. She said she loves the camaraderie she feels with the other volunteers and the people they serve, plus she gets great happiness from knowing she is trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world “ and that people appreciate it.
You know you re making somebody s day by coming by for a simple visit, Gunn said. It s just a joy to see how happy it makes them.
The ministry draws a wide variety of volunteers “ men and women, youth and kindergarten parents, all the way up to one 95-year-old man who volunteers every Saturday.
It s faith-based and it s not just about feeding people, Smoak said. And there s always action in the kitchen helping the least of these.