Feeding children, fostering community: Sheridan church works with partners to provide summer meals

By Martha Taylor and Amy Forbus
Special Contributor and Editor

SHERIDAN, Ark.—If providing nourishing meals to hungry Grant County children weren’t enough, the members of First United Methodist Church Sheridan have learned that feeding ministries can bring together people who might never have met, and strengthen the ties between church and community.

“The ministerial alliance, community leaders and representatives from the Arkansas Hunger Alliance met last year to discuss a summer feeding program, something that hadn’t been provided in the past,” said the Rev. John Embrey, pastor of First UMC Sheridan.

That conversation resulted in action last summer and beyond. Now, with four locations providing meals five days a week, the summer lunch program tripled the number of meals served from 1,000 in 2014 to 3,500 meals just one year later. That wouldn’t have happened without the involvement of church, school and community partners, he said.

Five days a week, volunteers arrive at First UMC Sheridan to take delivery from PepsiCo, an outside vendor that provides the well-balanced meals in accordance with USDA guidelines for children who depend on free or reduced lunches during the school year. The meals are divided among the four locations and then transported by volunteers. Other volunteers are at each site to serve the children, who vary in age.

Mike Carpenter, a member of First UMC Sheridan who coordinates the summer feeding program of the Sheridan/Grant County Ministerial Alliance, answers a question from a volunteer as they prepare to transport food to one of the sites offering free lunches on Aug. 12. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Mike Carpenter, a member of First UMC Sheridan who coordinates the summer feeding program of the Sheridan/Grant County Ministerial Alliance, answers a question from a volunteer as they prepare to transport food to one of the sites offering free lunches on Aug. 12.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Program administrator Mike Carpenter, a member of First UMC Sheridan, estimates more than 100 volunteers from eight different churches in the Sheridan/Grant County Ministerial Alliance have helped during the course of the summer.

“I couldn’t have asked for better involvement with all the churches. We’ve developed a friendship between all of us,” Carpenter said. “It’s been a blessing. I’ve met so many more people that I did not know. Not only are we reaching out to the kids, but the community involvement has been tremendous.”

Embrey agrees that the program has become a point of common interest and mutual respect among its faith-based and community partners.

“Just because Methodists, Baptists and Pentecostals don’t really see everything the same, doesn’t mean we don’t see the need to feed hungry kids,” said Embrey. “That in itself has been a great thing.”

While thrilled with the strides they’ve made this year in reducing the number of hungry children in Grant County, Embrey and Carpenter have begun to think about ways to feed even more children next year, perhaps by expanding into another county or offering Cooking Matters classes at the church.

Embrey has seen a positive impact on the congregation through its involvement in this ministry.

“I think I’m seeing God in this quite a bit,” he said. “I think God obviously has brought that program to these churches for us to make a difference. I think God is working through this program to give us a better idea of what it means to be in an alliance working together for ministry. It’s started that big conversation of who are our neighbors, what is their greatest need and what can we do to meet that need.”


Hunger Action Month: What will you do?
September is Hunger Action Month, so now is a great time to decide how to make a difference in your community. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Watch the latest video about Arkansas feeding ministries, featuring First UMC Sheridan.
  • Participate in the SNAP Challenge to get an idea of what it’s like to depend upon SNAP (formerly called food stamps) benefits. Visit www.arhungeralliance.org/get-involved/volunteer for links to resources from the Food Research and Action Center.
  • Sign up to work Ingathering, a United Methodist event at the Arkansas Rice Depot Nov. 21. This year, Ingathering includes two activities to help local food pantries, including food to take back to your own church’s feeding ministry for those who pre-register.
  • Make a gift to a local food pantry or other organization that helps address food insecurity in your part of the state.
  • Connect with the Arkansas Conference’s 200,000 Reasons initiative to fight childhood hunger.