MARYVILLE, Tenn. (May 7, 2015) -- Carpenters Campground United Methodist Church has a special relationship with the elementary school that’s less than two miles away.
Every Tuesday morning during the school year, volunteers from the church gather at Carpenters Elementary School. Their mission is to pack about 70 plastic bags with raisins, sunflower seeds, peanut butter crackers, cereal, juice, pudding, and canned beans.
On Friday, teachers will give the bags to about 70 kids, who will tuck the food into their backpacks. The food bags are ammunition for students to fight hunger over the weekend.
“No child should be hungry,” says Lori Sorg, explaining why she and her congregation have decided to reach out to children in poverty.
Although Carpenters Campground has been feeding hungry students for about five years, the Maryville church’s partnership with Carpenters Elementary is the sort of ministry Bishop Dindy Taylor hopes every Holston church will pursue.
“We don’t have to look to Africa to find situations of poverty and great need,” Taylor said recently. “Children in our own communities go to bed hungry, live in homes affected by addiction, struggle to have the supplies they need for their education, and they long for a caring adult to nurture them along the way.”
This year’s Annual Conference missions offering will focus on those children living in poverty near Holston’s 887 congregations, Taylor said. The goal is for every local church to give at least $10 and 10 hours of service for every person in their congregation. Conference leaders hope to raise at least $180,000 to provide grants for ministries serving poor children in each of Holston’s 12 districts.
“Each congregation is especially encouraged to seek out the local school in your community for the purpose of developing a partnership,” said the Rev. Michael Sluder, Holston director of missions. “The time and resources in your neighborhood can change lives and your community forever.” (Find out more.)
“These are the folks we need to be ministering to, and this is one way of doing it,” said Rev. Ken Tucker, Carpenters Campground pastor, who joined church volunteers in packing the weekend food bags on May 5. About 20-25 church members take turns at volunteering for the weekly service project.
Carpenters Campground members recognized the high poverty rate in their community and seized upon a way to help, Tucker said. The church raises about $3,500 annually -- through donations and United Methodist Women’s fundraisers – to buy the food for the weekend bags.
The receiving children are typically identified by their teachers, according to Nancy Schliesman, school guidance counselor. Of 600 students in the school, about 30 percent are from low-income families.
"As you can tell by the number of students receiving weekly bags and the number actually below the poverty level, we are barely scratching the surface in the actual number of needy children at our school," she said. Schliesman said she wished that more children could be helped, but parents or guardians must first sign a permission form before their child can participate in the food program.
As summer vacation nears, the school sends flyers home to the children’s parents or guardians, inviting them to participate in a summer feeding program through Carpenters Campground. Last summer, church volunteers delivered food to about 32 consenting families. The food is provided by Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, with extra food provided by the church, Tucker said.
“John and I are retired educators, and we wish there were programs like this when we were teaching,” said Barbara Bakelarr, who helped pack the weekend food bags with her husband.
Bakelarr recalled children who came to school hungry. The teachers brought in food to feed them breakfast.
Carpenters Campground has about 80 people in average worship attendance.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.