By Sam Pierce
More than three years ago, the Berryville United Methodist Men’s Group saw a need within the church to help not only the children in their community but also the children within their own church by providing a morning snack during the school year.
“Of course, probably not just here, some children younger children are going to school without something to eat,” said the Rev. Andy Hughes, who has been the senior pastor at Berryville United Methodist for three years. “Some children have parents that go to work earlier and they need a safe place for them to stay before school started.
“So they are able to drop them off here at the church. We have a lot of walking traffic of children, so we saw the need to invest in that, with an outreach ministry. We pray with kids, encourage them and give them snacks.”
The church is located across the street from the middle school so students come right up to the ministry, even if it is raining. He said they pray with the kids, encourage them and give them snacks.
“We talk to them, and invest time with the children,” Hughes said. “It was a need we saw within the community and it has been well received, so we kept it going.”
The parking lot usually opens up around 6:30 a.m. and runs till 8, when school starts. Hughes said sometimes the kids will show up right at 6:30.
“We have activities for them too,” he said. “We have a basketball goal out there and a tether ball, as well as a football. We have different things for them to do and it gives them something to do while they are waiting for school to begin.”
Hughes said they average between 20 to 25 kids during the year, having dropped off a little bit from previous years.
“Last year, we averaged 30 to 40 kids every morning, but several of those rode the bus.”
He estimated that 70% of the kids that come to the ministry in the morning are middle school children and the rest are probably high school students.
“Some of the high schools, drive, so they park in our lot and grab a cocoa or coffee or a snack,” he said.
The ministry offers a variety of snack items including Honey Buns, Nutty Bars and Oatmeal Cream Pies. He said they also have apples and fruit snacks. There is also a prayer jar for requests and volunteers will hand out Bibles to the students.
A large part of the expenses are funded through donations by either individuals or organizations such as the local Kiwanis Club. He said, for a month’s worth of snacks, the church will spend anywhere from $50 to $75.
“I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but without the donations, it would be more than that, probably closer to $100 a month for all of the expenses,” he said. “I thank the Lord, that we have had quite a few people that have donated.
“The Lord has met the need so far, and nobody has to suffer a lot because of it.”
He said through the ministry, he has seen salvations and he has seen some families feel uplifted during difficult times.
“The ministry has proved to be effective and more than that, it is a witness to our community.
“The community sees the outreach the church is doing and not because we are getting something out of it, but we understand the burden for some children.”
He said the intent of the ministry is to see children come to church — even if it isn’t his church.
“Some of the kids that come go to other churches,” he said. “We are out there trying to be a support for them. I would guess, about 20% of the kids that have come have been regulars for years and 80% are new kids that have come in.”
He said the church has a youth program on Tuesday nights and over the three years he has been the pastor, about 10 to 12 kids have transitioned from the morning ministry to the youth program.
“It is a blessing to the church and to the community,” he said.
“It has also helped other churches and caused those churches to get some young people, because those children weren’t able to come to our church, so they went somewhere else.
“That’s what ministry is all about — to see children transition into a Christian life. As long as they get in church and find Jesus as their savior, I’m encouraged either way.”