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Food program at Tampa church feeds body and soul

Food program at Tampa church feeds body and soul

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Food program at Tampa church feeds body and soul

July 6, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0326} 

An e-Review News Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

TAMPA — 9 a.m. couldn't come soon enough. They huddled outside the locked doors. Many had been here before. They knew that on the other side of those doors was fellowship and food.

"It doesn't matter where you go to church. It's not just for Methodists. It's for anybody in the neighborhood who's hungry," said Karen Hill, a volunteer with Port Tampa United Methodist Church's food pantry.

This Thursday morning was like all the others. At 9 o'clock sharp, the doors opened to needy families. Hill lifted grocery bags half her size. Her voice dripped with a distinctive southern drawl as she greeted her clients ... some faces new, others all too familiar.

"How did you make it through the week?" Hill asked. "Just barely," muttered the client. A gaunt man waited his turn for a bag of food. Hill told him, "We got to get some meat on your bones." When she asked about his puppy, he said, "Well, he eats better than I do."

For the past seven years, Port Tampa United Methodist Church has distributed about 40 tons of food. Volunteers from the church buy the groceries in bulk from Cahill Ministries Food Bank in Lakeland and America's Second Harvest in Tampa. Pepperidge Farm donates 200 loaves of bread every week and throws in Goldfish snack crackers as a special treat.

The church serves an average of 45 families every Thursday. Kevin Beverly is a stubborn, proud man who showed up for groceries.

"I only eat one meal a day," he said. Why? "Because that's all I want to eat."

He insisted the bag of food he took was for his girlfriend who needed it more than he did. "This church here helps a lot, even if it's just a few cans of food. It still helps, and I thank God for that," Beverly said.

The food pantry serves the homeless and those struggling to make ends meet. There are no financial requirements. "If they say they need it, they come and we give," the Rev. David Groves, pastor of the church, said.

The grocery bags include staples like chicken, ham, hot dogs and turkey. Most of it is pre-cooked.

"For the street people ... they can just let it thaw out and eat it. They don't have to heat it," Groves said. 

Hill agreed. "When you're hungry, a can of Vienna sausages or a can of Ravioli tastes good even if it's not heated up."

A blind man's baritone voice made its way into the food pantry before he did. He joshed with the volunteers about his love for beans and peanut butter. Hill filled his bag with all his favorites. She opened a cupboard and revealed a stash of Jif peanut butter. He had his choice — creamy or crunchy. He chose creamy.

The clients leave with more than a bag of groceries. They receive food for their souls too. "Dear Lord, we pray that you will bless this food for the nourishment of their bodies," Hill prayed with them. "Hold them close by your side and help them to know that all is going to be all right."

With that blessing, she gave hope to the hungry. Still, Hill knows that too many of them will be back next Thursday at 9 a.m.


This article relates to Outreach Ministries.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.