Connectional churches at work: Feed my sheep
BY MARY JO LEFLER
The winter of 2009 caused many children in Allegany County to miss several weeks of school. Not a big deal if you are a student, but parents were counting on their children to receive free breakfast and lunch at school. Now the children are home for two weeks and there is no money in the budget for food. What does a family do under those circumstances?
This snow storm led the United Methodist Women of Centre Street UMC to look for answers. Sure, the snow storm is an unusual event but another question is how do children survive the long hot summers when they are not in school. How do parents feed active hungry children on their limited resources all summer long?
The women read an article in the local newspaper about Becky Millar and her Summer Lunchbox Program and invited Becky to speak to their group. They learned that the Summer Lunchbox Program is an ecumenical group that has been providing economically disadvantaged children in the south Cumberland area nutritious lunches for nine summers.
The program started out feeding 60 children each day and the numbers kept growing. In 2009 they fed over 350 children daily. The lunches were packed at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian, and Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church and distributed to six sites in the community. Local social workers give up their lunch hour to hand out lunches.
Now the women had the answer to their question about how the children were fed. But for me, Mary Jo Lefler, chairman of Missions, and the Rev. Ann Atkins this wasn’t enough. We knew we had a large underused building with a big kitchen and Fellowship Hall, and were centrally located between the participating churches. But how does a church whose average member is 75 years old and whose budget was already stretched fit into this picture? Answer: The connectional church.
We sent letters to the 15 local United Methodist Churches in the Cumberland area and the response was overwhelming. Some churches had funds but no workers while others had limited budgets and lots of volunteers. Other churches had a place to hand out lunches. So this summer Centre Street UMC joined the Summer Lunchbox Program.
Every Thursday for 7 weeks, 500 lunches were prepared in the kitchen and Fellowship Hall. There were jobs for everyone. Some made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some bagged carrot sticks or cookies while others packed the bags. Men loaded the cars with coolers of juice and fresh fruit along with the boxes of lunches to be delivered to the sites.
There was a family with three generations participating, and a woman who used a walker for years came faithfully and counted the bundles of bags and napkins. In all, over 35 workers each day helped and the supplies and food needed to produce the lunches were provided. Extra food was later taken to the Rescue Mission, a local homeless shelter run by Pastor Dan Taylor.
When you trust in the Lord — the Lord does provide. Not only were 500 lunches packed each day but men and women from churches across the community came and had fun together while ministering to the children of the community. No grumbling, just smiles and praises. When God is the center of the work, powerful things can happen.
It’s been an exciting seven weeks at Centre Street UMC. Members discovered they had talents they didn’t know they had and now they cannot hide these talents under a bushel anymore. This is only a start in breathing new life into an older congregation. They learned that sometimes you need to reach out to others and together great things can happen. God isn’t finished with Centre Street UMC or the other United Methodist churches in Cumberland. They are learning to trust in God who still has big plans for this big building with an older congregation and many of the people cannot wait to see what God will ask of them next.
Suddenly a spark has been lit in this church and we all know "it only takes a spark to get a fire going." Praise God for not giving up on one of his churches. None of this could have been accomplished without all these churches coming together to share in the ministry. Together we can make a difference in our community.
Churches participating with Centre Street UMC include Ellerslie, Davis Memorial and New Covenant UMCs with generous donations; and Centenary, LaVale, Cresaptown, Melvin UMCs and Cornerstone Baptist provided supplies and volunteers.
Mary Jo Lefler is chair of Missions at Centre Street UMC, Cumberland.