“I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was homeless and you gave me a room; I was shivering and you gave me clothes; I was sick and you stopped to visit; I was in prison and you came to me… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me -- you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40, “The Message”)
|The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services encourages churches to join its Summer BreakSpot program by hosting feeding sites for children when school is out. (Photo from FDACS.)|
For many children, summer is a happy time, full of fun. For others, it’s a time to hunger, not only for food but also for something to nurture their spirits.
This past summer, two small churches, with the help of neighboring congregations, put their resources, volunteers and hearts into action to make a big difference in the lives of local children.
The first is Anthony UMC, located 6 miles north of Ocala. The surrounding horse farms and large homesteads belie the tough times many locals face, said Rev. Greer Jensen, who is in her fourth year as pastor at Anthony UMC.
“We are experiencing exceptionally difficult times here, with about 12.8 percent unemployment,” she said.
Information about children’s advocacy efforts at Annual Conference three years ago opened church member Jim Pratt’s eyes to the tragedy of childhood hunger.
“It just seemed like this shouldn’t really be happening,” he said.
|Anthony UMC, a church with about 150 members, launched a summer feeding program three years ago. (Photo from Charlotte Williams.)|
Inspired by then-Bishop Timothy Whitaker’s challenge to end hunger for Florida’s youngsters, Pratt and his wife, Barbara, felt called to help feed local hungry children. When they approached Jensen about starting a program, she gave them full support. So began the summer feeding program, which just concluded its third year.
With lunches provided by the state’s Summer BreakSpot program four days a week, plus donations and $700 from a Florida Conference Lockmiller grant, Anthony UMC was able to provide meals and snacks weekdays on-site to children ages 6 to18 all summer long.
For 3½ hours each day, children partook not only of food but activities such as art, music, videos, water games, and a time to learn about Christ. Highlights included a bingo game with school supplies as prizes and field trips to a U-pick blueberry farm and a bowling center.
The program used grant money to provide for the fifth day’s lunches, plus supplies including crafts, paper, paint, sandwich bags and paper goods.
Anthony UMC has about 150 members, mostly Anglo-Americans and seniors. Previously, the congregation partnered with another local church, Sparr UMC, to offer a monthly food pantry. Organizers of the Anthony summer program tapped into those contacts to invite families to the summer program and also distributed flyers within a 7-mile radius. The ministry ended up serving 22 children, mostly Hispanic.
Five volunteers kept it going, picking up meals from Summer BreakSpot or serving lunches made by church member Leah Mitchell.
“We were feeding their spirits, not just their tummies,” Jensen said.
“Last year, all the children could draw a yin-yang symbol, but they knew nothing about the cross. …We had a very intentional study this year with all the activities reinforcing the Bible study.”
|Carol City UMC is among Florida Conference churches providing Summer BreakSpot feeding sites for children.|
Almost 300 miles away, in South Florida’s Miami Gardens, another small church, Carol City UMC, teamed up with Opa Locka UMC to host a six-week summer camp and feeding program for kids 4 to 18.
Both churches have a largely senior membership, with many hailing from islands in the Caribbean, and share a pastor, Rev. JoAnn Brookins. Despite being surrounded by young families, the congregations did not have children attending.
So summer camp organizers drew on a relationship with a third church, Ebenezer UMC, which had worked with Carol City on a tutoring program. Ebenezer member Joyce Reid became a summer camp volunteer.
The church successfully applied for a $1,000 Lockmiller grant and also worked with Florida’s Summer BreakSpot to supply food. The camp attracted 26 children, and a church member donated $1,000 to pay for field trips.
Volunteers, including active and retired teachers, made camp days exciting with academics, arts and crafts, indoor and outdoor recreation, performing arts classes, and picnics. In addition to meals, the children had an opportunity to pray every day.
“Many of the children didn’t know how to pray, didn’t know anything about the Bible or any gospel songs,” Brookins said.
“But when they left camp, they knew 15 gospel songs, including ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and ‘Wade in the Water.’”
Orlando Magic player Glen "Big Baby" Davis helps distribute Summer BreakSpot lunches at a South Florida site. (Photo from FDACS.)
She said Carol City’s island style of worship and music spilled over into camp days, and children in third grade and up participated in lively Bible studies full of questions.
A post-camp follow-up with parents garnered many compliments from grateful families, Brookins said. One parent was so impressed that she pitched in and stayed for the camp activities every day.
Organizers at both Anthony and Carol City said lack of transportation to and from the camp curtailed the number of children that could be served, and they hope next year to attract funding or volunteers to shuttle kids back and forth.
“We lost the opportunity to serve some 15 kids because of this,” Brookins said, speaking for the Carol City program.
Florida Conference Lockmiller grants are intended to help United Methodist churches and agencies meet the needs of children and youth. The program is funded through trusts established by the late Alice W. Lockmiller and managed by the Florida United Methodist Foundation. For information, contact Rev. Rick Bennett at the Floridan Conference, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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