First United Methodist of Crossett has a long history of feeding children in need, but when Autumn Smith came to work there, the program had run its course and lost its momentum for a couple of years.

The VBS group at First UMC Crossett filled a canoe with food for hungry children after Autumn Smith asked the children to fill it with healthy snacks.
|| Photo provided by Autumn Croswell

Autumn was hired as the new Children’s and Youth Minister in 2016 and saw a need in the community. Children in public schools still faced food insecurity. The schools still needed help with sending food home in backpacks for children over weekends and holiday breaks.

She began gathering resources to help the school. FUMC of Crossett had memorial funds that they were willing to put toward food purchases. Autumn made a call to the president of the Delta Xi Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi in Crossett to see if they would be able to offer help of any kind and collaboration. The chapter was more than willing to offer volunteers as well as money to purchase the reusable backpacks. They purchased 78 backpacks for the church to fill with snacks and make quick meals.

Autumn worked with the UMW who continued to purchase and organize more food. As space became needed, she looked for a place to keep the donated food before it was bagged up and taken to the schools. The Board of Stewards voted that they could change the church library into the food pantry for the gifted food. With organized storage space, Autumn could quickly know the supplies and communicate with the primary, intermediate, middle and high school counselors about what she and her volunteers could prepare and drop off to the school once a month. The Junior Auxiliary donates large flats of food for the long holiday breaks. Depending on supplies and food gifts, they can offer food pick-ups in the summer by students or their parents.

First UMC Crossett’s backpack ministry volunteers fill bags with food for hungry children. From left to right: Ann West, Reba Gray, Annie Ruth Pitzer, Autumn Croswell, and Sylvia White.
|| Photo provided by Autumn Croswell

Those low supplies in the summer led Autumn to think about how she could fill those shelves, so she decided to make it her Vacation Bible School mission project instead of the assigned mission in the curriculum. FUMC Crossett had planned a three-day Vacation Bible School.

The first day, Autumn shared the story of how many children needed food in their community. She was doing the Raging River themed VBS, so she pulled a large canoe into the sanctuary and asked the children to fill it with the healthy snacks needed for the school backpack ministry. At the end of the last day of Vacation Bible School, the canoe had been filled, and they had raised $198 in cash to add to the food pantry.

Autumn had an excellent idea for making her VBS mission very local and real for her congregation. You can take her excellent idea and make your own service project, VBS mission, or multi-generational service project. 200,000 Reasons has partnered with the Rice Depot and Children’s Ministry to create an easy-to-use lesson plan that you can use in your Vacation Bible School.

You can download the FREE sample lesson plans for Pre-K – second grade, third – sixth grade and a congregation presentation from https://arumc.org/our-ministries/childrens-ministry/vacation-bible-school/ or https://arumc.org/our-ministries/200k-reasons/. If you don’t have a food pantry like Autumn, do not fear; Mary Lewis Dassinger, mdassinger@arumc.org, can work with you on where those needs may be closest to your location.