Amy Ezell

Director, Center for Communication

When Paragould First United Methodist Church was built in 1926, it sat on the corner of a lot near downtown and was surrounded on all sides by modest family homes. One of those homes belonged to the family of Emma Nell “Emmy” Witt, long-time church member, choir director, and all-around favorite. Even several years after her passing, she is still talked about with much emotion by those who knew her well in church and the school where she worked as a coach and mentor.

When Witt died in 2010, something special needed to be done with her home which was just steps away from the church. Emmy’s mother, Cora, had served families experiencing difficult times out of her kitchen and since Emmy inherited her mother’s love of serving others, it was a natural extension to turn her family home into a food pantry named appropriately The Witt House. 

In 2011, before the original Witt house had to be demolished, people from the community would enter this friendly space by crossing the front porch and entering the front door that Emmy walked in her whole life. Where her family once sat in their living room, clients were now sitting while they waited to pick up food. She would have loved knowing that her old refrigerator was kept full of food for hungry people in need.

Today, the Witt House has maintained its name even though the location has changed. Another home was saved and remodeled to be the new feeding ministry place. It is located on the corner of Garland and 5th Streets across from the church parking lot. Volunteers from First United Methodist Church in Paragould serve clients each Tuesday evening and Friday morning throughout the year. The pantry is open to anyone who needs food, and families can receive this assistance once a month.

One of the highlights that set apart this food pantry is the dignified approach to selection and choice. Each family is allowed to choose items that they want from a menu that can change weekly. The menu consists of non-perishable food items, canned foods, dairy selections, fresh produce, a variety of meat proteins, bread, and sometimes bakery items as they become available.

It takes a team of volunteers to keep the Witt House open and full of food choices. Some of these volunteer roles include picking up food at various marketplaces, shelf organization, filling menu orders when the pantry is open, and the front-line volunteers who meet the families and help them plan their menu choices.

“We have a lot of fun with what we do,” said John Shepherd, volunteer produce coordinator. “It is also very humbling to see the need. There is a huge mission field out there.”

Last year, the Witt House served 2,023 households representing 7,093 individuals all from the Greene county area.

The Witt House has also begun giving away books to children as part of a larger connection to an initiative of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. 200,000 More Reasons is a special ministry serving the entire state of Arkansas that provides grants and resources to local feeding ministries that encourage literacy and family stability for neighbors.

Reverend Chase Burns, associate pastor of FUMC Paragould shared, “Over the past three years, I have witnessed our teams adapt and continue to ‘dream and dream bigger’ as they not only provide nutritional items to our neighbors but engage with our neighbors to develop life-long relationships and share the light of Christ in their efforts.”

Paragould First United Methodist Church is located at 404 West Main Street, Paragould, AR, 72450. The Senior Pastor is Rev. Dane Womack and the Associate Pastor is Rev. Chase Burns. The District Superintendent for northeast Arkansas is Rev. John Fleming and the episcopal leader for Arkansas is Bishop Gary Mueller. To learn more about this church the website is fumcparagould.org.

Contributed by Karoline Risker, Technology & Communication Director at Paragould UMC