Fighting food insecurity is a year-round effort embraced by the United Methodist Churches in Arkansas. The Arkansas Conference’s month-long collection endeavor, affectionately dubbed ‘Collectober,’ encourages churches to gather food and disaster kits to supply those in need at the Ingathering event in November. To nurture this month’s ministry, we recognize previous seasons of giving led by churches in our conference.

Summers are particularly difficult for kids facing food insecurity without the benefit of school breakfasts and lunches. To fill in these gaps and keep young people fed during the break, Vilonia United Methodist Church rose to the challenge.

With the help of a $2,000 grant from 200,000 More Reasons and ultimately The Methodist Foundation for Arkansas, Vilonia UMC could distribute substantial food bags to at least 20 children and young people each week during the summer.

Over 11 weeks, Vilonia UMC volunteers picked up local children on Wednesday evenings and brought them into the church for a hot meal, Bible study, and reading practice. Upon departure, all participants were supplied with two bags of food to take home and any books of their choosing.

The grant also helped them purchase 200 books for all different reading levels. These were given to the children throughout the summer to read on Wednesday nights and take home with them. There are still books on hand at the church that they will continue to encourage young readers to select and keep for their personal library. The remaining funds were used toward the food given weekly.

Food is bought in bulk from Sam’s Club and packed by volunteers. Even some children receiving the bags find joy in helping pack them. The program has survived on donations from the congregation in the past, some giving monthly and a significant boost from the Christmas Eve offering allocated for the ministry. With this grant, their reach soared further than ever.

The work has not only proven beneficial to the kids, but to the adult volunteers as well. Congregation members are proud to assist with cooking, teaching, or reading to a child. There is an incredible reward in providing necessities to young people that unfold in our spiritual lives and in the progress made by the next generation.

Rev. Lauren Delano is the pastor of Vilaonia UMC.

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” – Isaiah 58:10