There are more than 200,000 reasons here in Arkansas for us to try help feed others. One of the members of Bear Creek United Methodist Church in Evening Shade had this concept placed on her heart several years ago, and we had been discussing this for some time before the 200,000 reasons initiative. But when that came up in annual conference we knew that was the sign we had been praying about.
Here in our little town, we know that there are many others who need food. We represent an area of rural Arkansas that do not have a lot of resources or aid. Our children and elderly and shut-ins have no meals-on-wheels or myriad of churches vying to help stop hunger. So we started a free sack lunch program one day a week. We know that is not a lot, but that is something that we can do.
We have between 20 and 30 people who attend church. Many are elderly, but we have some younger families as well. Everyone is busy just like in other places; we all have plenty to do with our families, doctor appointments, cooking, jobs, homework, and housework. But the work of the Lord needs doing, too. Since we are such a small, rural church we have to work together to accomplish anything worthwhile. Tuesdays are busy for us; that is our free sack lunch day.
We started the program last year in April and continued through most of October. That way we could serve the school-age children who were out of school for the summer and had no free lunch from the school. The school is 12 miles away; so even if they offered a summer free lunch, our children wouldn’t have a way there and back. What we found out that first year is that our elderly population was in dire straits as well. We began with about 25 lunches and even reached 50 a couple of times that first year. Now we are serving 75 to 100 and growing! Since our little church is 3 miles out in the country, it was inconvenient to have people come out there. We decided to pack the bags up and bring them into town to a central place, our old-school gym, to distribute. This is within walking distance of many of our children and easy access to anyone driving up. It is a neutral place where everyone feels like it is approachable.
A couple of people are in charge of buying lunch sack items for the week, and several of us meet on Tuesday mornings to begin getting the lunches ready. We make sandwiches without condiments, put them in individual bags and place all of the sandwiches in coolers. Others are packing the sacks with chips, a sweet (cookie, snack cake, marshmallow treat), a fruit (apple, tangerine, raisins, applesauce), and we put in a slip of paper with a scripture on it. We put the sacks in boxes and transport all of this to town. We give out lunches from 11:30 to 1:00.
We give to anyone who wants lunch. Children, parents, business people, laborers who come by and see our sign. There are many reasons to need a lunch on any given day. We are not there to question, just to serve. We step down to the car to ask how many, or people will get out of there vehicles to stand and talk with us, and we listen to their stories. Everyone is so very thankful and grateful for lunch. We are rewarded most of all because we know we made a difference in someone’s life that day. We have received so many thoughtful comments and heartfelt thanks.
Sometimes we get thank-you cards handed to us, and one man drew us a handmade card. Comments such as, “You don’t know how much this means to us.” is very common. Even the scriptures are a big hit. Many have told us that they read the scripture first, before eating the lunch, and some have said that the scripture was really what they needed that day. The community has embraced this program and have made fliers for their businesses, and told us that they are happy to be a part of a community that would think of others. Still, others have helped to fill in when our numbers were short due to illness and other things.
Lastly, someone takes sack lunches around to the shut-ins in town and surrounding area. God has truly blessed us through this ministry. We started out wanting to be a blessing to others, but we are the ones to feel blessed.
This article was submitted by Patty Sample, a member of Bear Creek United Methodist Church in Evening Shade, Arkansas.