First UMC Magnolia cooks up grace with 200K More Reasons grant 

written by Kelli Reep, contributor 

Since 1983, The Stewpot has been a mission outreach project at First United Methodist Church Magnolia. From 4:30-5 p.m., three days each week, this ministry serves hot takeout meals to anyone who asks. Because the church is centrally located in the Magnolia Square, The Stewpot is easily accessible to all. This mission recently received a $2,000 grant from 200,000 More Reasons so it can continue to feed children and families throughout Columbia County.

“Because we house a full-time daycare in the church, and we also are a Safe Sanctuary Church, we cannot open The Stewpot for in-person meals,” said Valerie Sanders, a member of First United Methodist Church Magnolia. “On any given day, we might serve 150-200 meals to the food insecure in Magnolia and rural Columbia County, which adds up to more than 28,000 meals per year.”

Because Magnolia and Columbia County are rural areas, The Stewpot serves a lot of lower socioeconomic populations, and the economic outlook of the county has changed. Food and necessity prices have increased, and families are suffering. According to Sanders, The Stewpot is experiencing this as well. 

“We serve all ages and ethnicities,” Sanders said. “I would say we might be the only hot, takeout, well-balanced meal this population might receive. There are no other soup kitchens in Magnolia to go to for meals. Raising funds to serve the food insecure in Magnolia and Columbia County is our major goal. Without these funds, we would not be able to feed everyone who requests meals.”

In 2022, The Stewpot served 3,561 meals to children under the age of 18, 11,424 meals to those ages 19-59, and 5,223 meals to Arkansans ages 60 and older.

“It is extremely important we are able to continue to work in this rural community to offer hot meals and support to all who ask,” Sanders said. “This year, because protein sources are hard to acquire from food banks, we are asking for funds to purchase meats such as beef and chicken.”

Funds from the 200K More Reasons grant provided by the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas will cover a quarter of The Stewpot’s budget to purchase food and meat protein. According to Sanders, the ministry budgeted $8,600 to purchase food and meat items, with most canned items donated through the schools at Christmas from their annual Christmas food drives. 

“Our budget also includes $6,500 for kitchen supplies and equipment, and we have two paid employees who work 18 hours per week for $29,000,” Sanders said. “Greer’s Chapel United Methodist Church and Asbury Methodist Church help us in preparing the trays to distribute to the clients, and members of Magnolia’s First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also volunteer. It takes about 60 volunteers spending 2,500 volunteer hours each year to keep The Stewpot up and running efficiently.”

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