Editor’s Note: This story is part of a continuing monthly series about school-church partnerships, one of the Florida Conference’s major initiatives. Volunteers reach out daily to change the lives of our children.
Mica Roughton probably didn’t expect her life to be changed in the moment she was about to experience, but there it was. This retired elementary school teacher had recently moved back to Ormond Beach and was looking for a way to help make her community a better place to live.
|Volunteers join in a moment of prayer before delivering much needed food to families of Osceola Elementary School. The Food Brings Hope program at FUMC of Ormond Beach is currently staffed by 20 volunteers. Shown left to right are Sue Lutes, Lil Arrants and Mica Roughton.|
Roughton did some research in response to a stirring in her soul about Volusia County children and families living in poverty. That’s where she learned about an outreach called Food Brings Hope. That led to a conversation with the daughter of Forough Hosseini, the program’s founder. It was around Christmas, and Hosseini told her a story of a child and mother who were living in a car.
A lot of people might have said, gee that’s awful, and moved on to something more pleasant to discuss. Maybe they would have written a check as a donation and considered that a sufficient response. Roughton wanted to go deeper.
She heard God’s call clearly. God didn’t want just her sympathy. God wanted her.
The stirring within her turned into action.
Roughton is now the volunteer coordinator of a Food Brings Hope ministry for First United Methodist Church of Ormond Beach. She has the full support of Senior Pastor Scott Smith, and there is a team of about 20 volunteers who help deliver bags of food to some of the neediest families at Osceola Elementary School.
It has helped immediately, and it has helped in ways that may take years to fully measure.
“This has had a tremendous impact on our school,” Osceola Principal Kevin Flassig said. “It fills the gap for people to get nutrition, no matter what the circumstance was that made them fall into a bad situation.
“Our relationship with the church has gotten stronger through this program. I love the partnership this creates with the community. There is a great need for help. This makes a difference.”
Flassig said 74 percent of his school’s approximately 400 students qualify for free or reduced lunches, compared to the average of 62 percent in Volusia schools and 58 percent of Florida students overall.
Food Brings Hope goes beyond that and tries to address those with the greatest need by providing up to two weeks of food at a time for a whole family. That includes meats, canned goods and other necessities.
The bags cost $10 each. The church pays half the cost through donations and fundraisers. Volunteers deliver the food directly to the families, or they can be picked up at school.
“We have seen the difference that our Food Brings Hope program has made in these children’s lives,” church Communications Director Tina-Marie Schultz said.
“They are nourished both bodily and spiritually. They know that the food is from the church and experience firsthand the evidence of God working through this ministry.”
The church currently helps a dozen critically needy families and is looking to expand as others in need are identified.
“What happens is that teachers find out first which families are struggling,” Flassig said. “They reach out. A lot of times it is someone who has just fallen on hard times. Maybe they were living paycheck to paycheck when they experienced a disruption in their lives.
|"This has a tremendous impact on our school," said Osceola Principal Kevin Flassig. An estimated 400 students currently qualify for free or reduced lunches at the school.|
“This is about taking food and trying to keep families in need from becoming homeless when they have to make a choice between buying food or paying the rent. It makes such a difference,” he said.
“Kids in need in these programs used to come to school on Monday morning starving because they hadn’t eaten all weekend. Now, they’re able to stay in class and focus. They aren’t spending as much time in the nurse’s office.”
The program is in keeping with the long-range goals at the Ormond Beach church.
In 2016, the congregation adopted a plan that declared within 10 years it would be a church that gave away more money than it spent on itself. It would provide 26,000 hours of sweat equity to the community and world.
It makes a difference.
“The impact to our church of the Food Brings Hope Project is vast. We, as a church, have come together to make sure that the children in need in our neighborhood have the best possible chance in this life,” Schultz said.
“The children are nourished both in body and soul, and that for us brings a warm feeling of hope for our future. We can see the difference that our support has made. To have that hungry child see the evidence of God, in a meal that we helped supply is wondrous. It encourages our church members to become better disciples, and in such, makes our relationship with Jesus Christ closer.”
The families in need defy typical stereotypes. Some are experiencing short-term disruptions because of lost jobs or illnesses. Some needs are more profound.
Roughton shared the story of one family whose home was badly damaged last year by Hurricane Matthew. There were two children living there who have health issues. The mother in the house is battling cancer.
During one delivery of needed food bags, the husband told the volunteer, “You know, this is the only thing this week that has put a smile on my face.”
Jesus told Christians to love their neighbor as themselves. Offering a hand up in times of dire need is one way of fulfilling that fundamental command. That’s why Roughton won’t stop reaching out. She has clearly understood the message she received to love.
“Most of us are just one hurricane away from being in the same situation, and then we’ll need help,” she said. “I just kind of felt called to do this. There is no other way to explain it. I was called by God to do this.”
--Joe Henderson is a freelance writer based in Brandon.
Editor’s Note: If your church is currently involved in a school-church partnership or planning to establish one, the Florida Conference would like to share your story. Please contact Doug Long, managing editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.