Matthew 13:32 says, “It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds come and perch on its branches.”
The First United Methodist Church of Maumelle has done just that with its Backpack Ministry – planted a small seed and watched it grow.
The Backpack Ministry began in the fall of 2017 with a mission to provide weekend meals to local food-insecure students who rely heavily on the school cafeteria.
“We knew that we had kids and families in our community that were struggling with a basic need, and we wanted to help,” said Kayla Tullos, Director of Children’s Ministry at FUMC Maumelle.
The ministry was initially providing 25 students at one school with meals each weekend during the school year. Under Kayla’s management, the Backpack Ministry currently provides 278 students at seven schools with weekend meals.
From January to March of this year, the church delivered 3,380 meals to local schools through the ministry.
“We are reaching kids and families in our community who struggle with food insecurity. We are also reaching those involved in helping within our local schools,” Kayla said. “We rely heavily on the counselors at the school. They are the contact point for us. They access the needs and make sure the children receive the bags each week.”
Each bag includes applesauce, peanut butter crackers, fruit bars, fruit cups, oatmeal, and a self-contained meal, such as ramen or mac and cheese. Kayla said it was important to her that the food be nutritious, filling, and easily prepared by a child.
“It is a blessing every week to know that on Thursday the bags are going to be delivered and all I have to do is call for my students on Friday afternoon and hand them out,” said Laura Turner, the counselor at Pine Forest Elementary School.
“Weekend meals were also provided during the summer vacation months,” said Jo Johnson, a volunteer with the church’s commissions committee. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the program expanded rapidly to meet an increased need for meals in our community.”
Jo said the ministry fosters a sense of camaraderie and commitment for its volunteers while addressing and meeting a community need.
When the Backpack Ministry started, there were three to four volunteers, but currently, there are fourteen to sixteen volunteers who help regularly. Students of all ages, the church’s in-house day school, scout groups, and many community members also volunteer their time when available. Volunteers pick up the supplies and package them at the church before distributing them to local schools.
You can visit their website to learn more about FUMC Maumelle’s Backpack Ministry or other ministry and volunteer opportunities.