There is nothing that tugs at the heartstrings more than a child going hungry. You would hope that such poverty does not exist in Spartanburg, but any teacher, pastor or community worker knows that it does. Other vulnerable neighbors are affected as well – the elderly, disabled and housebounds who, because of COVID-19 have found themselves isolated from other resources. What a great opportunity for the church to be the church and step in to help!
When the news broke that schools would be closing in response to the virus, Missions Pastor Jason Williamson reached out to local districts, as well as Church at The Mill members Peggy Luther, a district manager at Chartwells Schools Dining Services, and Marc Zachary, Chief Human Resources Officer for School District 7, to offer whatever help might be needed in feeding school children. After officials at District 7 Schools made plans and assessed their needs, they accepted Church at The Mill’s offer to provide volunteers.
With the federal government freeing up funds and the USDA releasing restrictions, the Office of Child Nutrition, under State Superintendent Molly Spearman, and the governor paved the way for meals to be made accessible to every child throughout the state. These funds have not only allowed buses to run and drivers to be paid, but they have provided meals to be distributed from both district schools and an army of school buses.
About 45 District 7 buses have been rolling out four days a week at around 10 AM with two meals for each child – a lunch for that day and the next morning’s breakfast. Each school bus is equipped with a driver and an assistant, primarily made up of Church at The Mill volunteers, volunteers from other local churches and teaching assistants from McCarthy Teszler School. The buses travel on their normal routes and hand out enough meals for every child under the age of 18, including young ones not yet attending school. Meal delivery has been massive, with an estimated 3,000 meals delivered in a day’s time, via bus or school pickup.
Both Jason and Marc have ridden the buses since the program’s start and have found grateful parents and children along the way. Church at The Mill leaders also expressed their gratitude last week by providing a free lunch, cooked by The Farmer’s Table food truck, for the bus drivers.
As Jason gathered information regarding community needs from other pastors and the United Way, another organization expressed a need. Mobile Meals, a non-profit meal delivery ministry to the homebound in Spartanburg County had a need for drivers. Since a large percentage of their drivers are elderly, the COVID-19 recommendations for self-isolation took a big chunk out of Mobile Meals’ volunteer base. Church at The Mill stepped in again, providing eight to ten drivers a day. Keri Rowland has been one such driver.
Keri is not new to delivering for Mobile Meals, as she delivered for them years ago. But with the COVID-19 precautions, this experience has been a little different. Mobile Meals now packs the coolers with the meals in order to keep personal exposure at a minimum, and the drivers are equipped with hand sanitizer and gloves. Each route involves delivery to 8-15 clients and takes about 60-90 minutes to complete. Mobile Meals estimates that they distribute 1,500 meals each weekday, with clients receiving an average of two meals (usually one hot and one frozen).
This ministry involves very little time, but the returns are huge. Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, the heart of this service revolved around the visit. The people served by this organization are hungry for the company as well as the food; but right now, some adaptations have to be made to keep people safe. Fortunately, prayer and some brief conversation can happen at the door. Even with restrictions in place, Keri finds this ministry rewarding, as she not only provides much needed food, but talks and prays with the clients. “It’s heartwarming,” she said. “Providing what they need is an incredible blessing.”
Jason had the opportunity to drive a route as well, this time taking his eight-year-old daughter Bailey. “I want to teach her how important it is to be an encouragement to people, especially those she might not meet under other circumstances,” he explained. The virus restrictions went slightly out of the window at one stop. Jason and Bailey delivered meals to a woman who just couldn’t stop crying. Bailey threw her arms around the woman, gave her a hug, and prayed with her.
At a time when we as a community are trying to follow guidelines and be wise about our health, it would be easy to cut ourselves off from others. But the most vulnerable of our neighbors continue to need us. Church at The Mill has not forgotten.