Food insecurity is not a term that you might commonly hear in church, but many people within the boundaries of the East Ohio Conference live daily with the reality that they cannot consistently access food – and, for many of those individuals, food insecurity is not their only concern.
Faith United Methodist Church (North Coast District) in Twinsburg has partnered with other Twinsburg area churches to reach people in the community in need of food. The churches very quickly discovered that those needs ran deeper than just a few meals.
“We found that when we were reaching out to people who were in need of meals that they were not just food insecure, many of them were very lonely, living without a spouse any longer, and even just living poor in spirit,” said Sandy Larry.
Larry coordinates much of the work between no less than three active churches in the Twinsburg area with others who have been involved in the past and those who are planning to become involved once the COVID-19 pandemic has come under some control.
“Churches have hosted the meals on a rotating basis, each taking one Sunday a month,” said Larry, who then shared that, in the past, churches were able to open the doors of their buildings and welcome people into fellowship halls and dining rooms for a home-cooked meal, salads and beverages. “But with COVID we have had to adjust how we are best able to serve our people each Sunday.”
Faith UMC has experimented with a variety of methods for hosting its monthly dinner. “We opened up for a little bit. And we have had drive-thru meals to go, takeout meals, and even invited people into the Fellowship Hall with proper social distancing guidelines before COVID spiked back up,” the Rev. David Whitt shared. The church currently is best serving the people of Twinsburg by hosting drive-up dinners.
“Some guests have come on a regular basis and have formed their own community,” said Whitt. “Every Sunday they get together and sit and talk.”
It is within these smaller communities formed pre-pandemic that Larry, Whitt, and others who have been involved were able to find out more about the stories behind the people coming to the meals. “Those folks who are coming every week and talking and sitting together have similar obstacles in their world,” said Larry. “I have known them for 10 years. They just want to be accepted for who they are, and they have bonded together over their shared lifestyles, economic situations, where they live, economics in their life – this is their social life, they do absolutely nothing else. These Sunday dinners have allowed us to really get to know their stories.” Larry said the biggest key is listening so that you can learn what someone’s needs might be beyond food.
Being able to take the time to learn the stories behind the people who come on Sundays has allowed the churches to be intentional in how it meets needs. Faith and other churches in the partnership have been able to help cover the cost of medications and to help some who have become hoarders and did not know how to clear their home of the overpowering clutter. Some who come are unable to cook so the churches prepare meals of the “heat and eat” variety that those individuals can take home and be able to enjoy throughout the week. Faith UMC also hosts a clothing ministry that allows guests to find what they are missing in their own closet.
“The food brings them in, and we are able to be the hands and feet of God and show them love where they are – not where we think they should be,” stated Larry. Whitt agreed, likening the food as an anchor for all the things that the churches can do for those in their community.
This outreach has grown beyond just a handful of churches in Twinsburg.
“We joined with the Akron-Canton Food Bank, and they are a great resource for us. Not just with food, but also with education,” said Larry. There is also a strong relationship with the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority that not only allows the churches another avenue to connect and distribute goods, but it is also a networking opportunity to connect with other area churches to strengthen this outreach once pandemic restrictions will allow for more involved gatherings.
“We want people seeing our churches doing something different and keeping in mind that they are the most important part of this ministry, not the people running the ministry,” shared Larry. And in this case the love of Christ has been magnetic for some who have been gathering each Sunday. “People that don’t typically go to church – who don’t feel comfortable or had something happen in their past that scared them away – by joining forces we are inviting them into a world that they have never really seen or taken part of before. Some are being reintroduced to Christ even.”
For now, the fellowship of a Sunday dinner carries this community well. Larry said it is neat to watch individuals park their cars side-by-side after they get their food – socially distanced, of course – and catch up. Some have even forged a strong enough bond that they call and share food and prayer requests, and who might be currently in the hospital.
The practical side of the ministry is evident. There are upwards of 150 meals served each week and approximately 21 pounds of groceries are given to people to use throughout the week when they pick up their Sunday dinner. Diners longing for connection are also filling out and returning the prayer card they receive with their meal, and the church is following up on those requests.
“The food is important to them, but they know that we all love them and that makes a huge difference,” Larry shared.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at email@example.com.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.