Faith Kitchen Connects Communities and Congregations through Food and Prayer

By Rick Wolcott*

“This helps. If it wasn’t for them giving out food, I probably wouldn’t have anything.”

Tammy Klingenberger’s words were echoed by many of the other 148 individuals who drove through the parking lot of Crystal Park UMC (Tuscarawas District) in just two hours on March 28 picking up groceries for the coming week for themselves and others as part of the new-look Faith Kitchen.

Begun nearly 20 years ago after its founder Cheryl Froelich was inspired to help the community during her participation in a Walk to Emmaus, Faith Kitchen is a food ministry of North Canton Faith UMC (Tuscarawas District), whose volunteers prepare a meal and distribute food at Crystal Park UMC in downtown Canton.

“Usually we serve a hot meal like pork chops, potatoes, vegetables, and bread – and I always make soup. But this week is different because of concerns about coronavirus. We’re going to have a container of to-go soup, sandwiches, fruit and cookies for lunch,” Froelich shared during preparations on Friday for the last-Saturday-of-the-month Faith Kitchen. “We’re going to pass out groceries outside so that we can practice social distancing. We don’t want to forget our folks and the people that we know during this time and we want them to know that we will go out in faith to help them.”

In addition to lunch, the food ministry provided meat, canned goods, pasta, rice, noodles, cereal, dry goods, juice boxes, eggs, bread, apples, oranges, desserts, hand soap, and toilet paper.

“Those who are disadvantaged are even more disadvantaged now because of the coronavirus pandemic. People that didn’t used to struggle a week ago are struggling now, so, if we can do anything to help them, that is what we want to do,” said Betty Fulton, a member of Faith UMC and a longtime volunteer for the Faith Kitchen.

Her husband Ron explained that in addition to changing how the food would be distributed this week, volunteers had to adjust to the way they received the food from the Akron-Canton Foodbank.

“Under normal conditions, we borrow the Stark County Hunger Task Force truck and take it up to the foodbank and pick up the food that’s been pre-ordered,” he said. “But today, the National Guard is delivering to us the food that they picked up from the Akron-Canton Foodbank.”

Sgt. Steven Patterson of the 1st Battalion of the 145th Armored Regiment of the Ohio National Guard explained the reason why the Guard is delivering food for the Foodbank.

“A lot of their volunteer workers are elderly, which means they’re at high risk of getting COVID-19 so with them not being able to help the food center we’ve volunteered to come in and pick up that area that they need help on. We have guys who are boxing food, people working the forklifts in the warehouse, and four teams of us who are delivering to eight counties,” he said.

There may have been changes in how the food arrived at Faith UMC and how it was distributed at Crystal Park UMC, but Teresa Purses said the focus of the ministry remains the same.

“This is a collaborative effort of several churches, our church, Crystal Park United Methodist Church and there are other people in the community, lots of groups like North Canton students come, Scouts come. So, it really is about bringing people together to support and lift up folks in our community,” the member of Faith UMC said.

Crystal Park UMC Pastor Hyeran Lee Yu prayed and talked with people through the windows of their cars as they lined up on 14th Street NE waiting to pick up their lunch and groceries to sustain them through the end of the month.

“This program is good for people who don’t have the necessary things to make do,” said an appreciative Daquan Haught after talking with Yu.

Like Yu, Faith Kitchen volunteers wore masks and gloves and did their best to maintain social distancing by keeping six feet between themselves and community members. The need to do so is vitally important but even after nearly a month people are still adjusting to the new normal.

“In the midst of this pandemic, I could feel my world getting smaller and smaller as I’ve done a lot of Zoom calls and e-mails and texts, I needed to be face-to-face even if that meant being at a six-foot distance with people. I needed to get my hands dirty for Jesus, again. The last two days of preparing for this have just enlivened my Spirit again,” said the Rev. Cara Stultz Costello, co-pastor of Faith UMC with her husband Steve, who also distributed food and prayed with people at the Faith Kitchen.

As Patricia Thurman sat in her car smiling at the love, kindness, and generosity that was all around her, even though rain had fallen all morning, she shared why she has encouraged coworkers and neighbors to come to Faith Kitchen.

“I’ve come here the past two years and it has impacted my life. It means a lot to me,” she said. “It means that people are still reaching out into ministry no matter what is going on in the community, that they’re willing and they’re able to come out and help despite what’s going on.”

“Jesus says that there is hope. Jesus says that when we go through the grave, we come out the other side and there is new life on the other side. I firmly believe that whenever the fog lifts from this (COVID-19 pandemic), we will have been in this crucible of discipleship and we will emerge as resurrection people,” said the Rev. Cara Stultz Costello.

As we pray for one another, continue to wash our hands frequently, clean our homes and workspaces, and practice social distancing, the ways that we are in ministry are changing but the need for us to minister to and with people remains the same.

“As a believer, you have to be the hands and the feet of Christ in your community,” Froelich said. “Even when it’s uncomfortable or it makes you afraid to go forth, you should spread the love of Jesus wherever you go.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.