contributed by Caroline Loftin
At the beginning of the pandemic, many of the weekly ministries of Village United Methodist Church in Hot Springs Village were disrupted. The community was encouraged to isolate and Village UMC’s congregation began seeking opportunities to help others remotely.
17% of Arkansans were struggling with food insecurity already, but during the spread of COVID-19, the small community of Mt. Pine – just up the road from Hot Springs Village, showed 30% of its citizens were experiencing hunger.
Partnering with Mt. Pine schools, Village UMC established a food drive in March of 2020, with large food donation bins located at the main entrance of the church. They also made weekly deliveries to the school’s pantry, keeping it stocked with canned goods, cereal, and pasta to supplement the already up-and-running program. To date, over 48,000 pounds of food have been shared through this effort.
But Village UMC’s ministry didn’t stop there. Led by Pastor Chris Hemund, the church began to imagine new depths of service in the Mt. Pine community and beyond. That’s where their new mobile food pantry mission was born.
“It could help us effectively get more food out into the community and neighborhoods of our mission field,” said Pastor Hemund.
The vision begins with Mt. Pine, and in time will expand to include the Jessieville and Ft. Lake communities.
Through the generous bequest of longtime Village UMC member Mona Galloway, the new Galloway Memorial Mobile Food Pantry was approved by the Village UMC Leadership Team and brought to life. Two coordinators stepped up to lead this work, and in the first week more than 80 volunteers signed up to assist. The trustees designated a room to house the food pantry, installed shelving, and purchased a trailer.
Food is purchased in bulk at Project HOPE and brought to the church pantry where it is sorted, checked, and shelved in preparation for the next team to come in and bag items. Each sack holds 25 food items and currently costs $14.28 to fill. The mobile food pantry is equipped to serve 100 families each month. On distribution day, a team of volunteers load the bags into the trailer and head out.
Village UMC invited sister church New Salem United Methodist Church, located in Mt. Pine, to partner in serving neighbors. New Salem volunteers staff the distribution event. Not only is food shared, but spiritual connections are being made.
“Together we are answering the call to care for our community with heart, mind, body, and soul,” said Pastor Hemund.