By Jessica Connor
COLUMBIA — Every night just before six o'clock they come, bearing casseroles lovingly prepared in church kitchens or big bags of steaming hot takeout.
Smiles warm their faces. This is what they do — pitch in. Help out. Step up when needed.
United Methodists churches across the Columbia District have taken on a special project this summer: providing a hot meal most weeknights for the women who live at Killingsworth, a transition home that helps women in crisis rebuild their lives.
Killingsworth is an Advance Special Ministry of the UMC, and the women who live there pay very limited room and board ($15/day) while learning life skills and getting spiritual, career and other counseling in a safe, Christian environment.
On a quiet tree-lined street in downtown Columbia, the women rebuild their lives in a historical home that has been lovingly cared for over the decades. But life in an old structure, no matter how beautiful, has its challenges. The kitchen was one of them. Latches were coming off the cabinets, the doors smacking into people as they walked by. Tile was falling off counters, and the plumbing and wiring needed a serious overhaul, not to mention dated residential appliances that were overused and inappropriate for cooking meals for 20 women night after night.
It was shabby and did not function well, said the Rev. Diane Moseley, Killingsworth executive director. The dishwasher was constantly being replaced.
So they took the plunge. Thanks to two very large individual donations, plus more than a dozen smaller gifts and a grant from the Women s Division of the UMC, Killingsworth decided to do a full kitchen overhaul. They spent a year planning, with blueprints drafted by Al Lindsey and Cal Dent, two United Methodist construction volunteers who dub themselves the Rak Pak (RAK: Random Acts of Kindness by Rascals of All Kinds). Construction began June 4.
Moseley calls Lindsey and Dent her property angels. The retired duo has been longtime Killingsworth volunteers, seeing the ministry through a bathroom renovation and pitching in to help with other household construction projects before devoting their time to helping oversee the kitchen remodel. They helped Killingsworth find the right contractor to do the job (Hazelwood Construction), and they are at the home daily, making sure the subcontractors are doing the work properly and assisting where needed.
If I had to pay somebody what they do, I d have spent six figures easily, Moseley said.
But gutting the kitchen meant at least three months of not being able to cook onsite. While the women have converted an adjacent room into makeshift eating hall “ with a small refrigerator, toaster and cupboards for things like cereal, bread and fruit “ they cannot make a hot supper.
So Moseley did the only thing she could: she called out, and the churches stepped in.
I asked for help from all over, Moseley said, showing the Advocate a printed calendar of how many churches have committed to helping night after night. Some churches are doing a day. Others, like Brookland, Lebanon, Platt Springs, Shandon and Mount Hebron UMCs, have committed to a three- or four-day weekday stretch. On weekends they scale back, relying on leftovers.
Doris Hogan s church, Lebanon UMC, Columbia, has committed to two weeks of providing food for Killingsworth. The men s club did a fish fry, and various individuals and Sunday school classes are picking a night to contribute.
It just gives people an opportunity to do something for someone else, Hogan explained about why they are volunteering their time. The gift is in the giving.
Tracy Best s church, Brookland UMC, West Columbia, volunteered a week in mid-June, plus she is doing a couple of fill-in dates throughout the summer.
We re excited, they re getting all this new stuff, but in the meantime it s aggravating, Best said, noting that she and others at the church felt it was something relatively easy they could do to help. It s not like I was asking someone to go to Salkehatchie for a week. It s just one afternoon.
Moseley said the kitchen project is meaningful for the Killingsworth women on so many levels. Not only will they have a beautiful new kitchen when the project is complete, and not only do they feel love and support in the meals provided by United Methodists, but they are also learning some valuable life lessons. After all, many of the women don t have strong coping skills; some of the women are recovering addicts, while others come from a mental hospital, were recently released from jail or prison, are healing from sexual or physical abuse, and more.
They are getting flexibility lessons; this is life on life s terms, Moseley said. Life s coming at you “ how are you going to deal with it without losing your cool?
Construction on the house should be finished by Labor Day, though it could take longer. Photos of the completed kitchen will run in a future Advocate. Killingsworth is hoping to have an open house in September.