Filling Empty Stomachs with Food and Wounded Souls with Dignity: It’s the Methodist Way
By: Sherri Gragg
In a Title I school district, Tomball UMC sits geographically between three needy schools. Eighteen years ago, they developed an afterschool program to provide tutoring and mentoring to neighborhood children. As the church grew closer to the children in the program, they realized that many of them were hungry. “Their parents were working two or three jobs and they were home alone,” said Senior Pastor Russell Hall, “On the weekends, the children were lucky if they got a sandwich to eat.”
The church began ensuring that the afterschool program participants were fed a nutritious snack each afternoon, and began a backpack feeding ministry through local schools to provide food for the weekends. As the years have passed, and the needs have grown, Tomball UMC’s Hunger Ministry has grown along with them. Today, the church impacts food scarcity in their community in a variety of ways.
The Tomball Community Garden began as a partnership between Tomball UMC and Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries (TEAM) ten years ago. In 2013, the garden moved onto the campus of Tomball UMC. The project is headed by two master gardeners, members of Tomball UMC, and powered by an army of volunteers from both the church and community.
The Tomball Community Garden is a donation garden. All fruits, vegetables and herbs are donated to TEAM’s year-round food pantry. “Our team identified years ago that in family budgets, fresh produce is one of the first things that gets cut when folks are tight on money,” said Associate Pastor Rebecca Jones. Last year, the garden donated 2,168 pounds of produce. This year, long before the fall garden is ready to harvest, they have already donated 2,300 pounds of fruits and vegetables to feed hungry families in their community.
Hall is excited about the future for the garden. Fruit trees and bee hives are the most recent editions, and with 20 acres available land on the campus, the garden has ample room to expand. Hall hopes the church will continue to think creatively when it comes to feeding their hungry community. “I have a friend in Lexington, Kentucky who has worked with the city to create community gardens on public lands such as medians, entrances, and esplanades. I would love to install a garden next to a park where we could teach people to grow their own food,” said Hall.
In an effort to meet the urgent nutritional needs of a growing homeless population, Tomball UMC has developed “Manna Bags.” The bags, made of rain repellent material, are stocked with non-perishable food items and designed for church members to keep in their cars when they see someone in need. “The backpacks are good for them to carry,” said Jones, “We have had some homeless individuals who have completely worn off the emblem because they use them as a pillow.” In the colder months, Tomball UMC partners with Heartfelt Stiches to include hats, mittens and blankets in the Manna Bags.
Thanksgiving in a Sack
For several years, Tomball UMC has partnered with TEAM to supply Thanksgiving dinner to hungry families through the “Thanksgiving in a Sack” program. TEAM provides a turkey for each family while Tomball UMC stocks a separate bag with everything else that is needed to for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.
Last year during Faith In Action week, the church also partnered with Rise Against Hunger to pack 10,189 bags of rice, beans and essential nutrients destined for needy families in Venezuela. In the middle of the project, church members feared it they would find it impossible to fill so many bags with food. But…they did it. Hall hopes the church will have the opportunity to participate once again this year if the necessary funding can be secured.
“I have been on both sides of the fence,” Hall said, “I have lived in houses in Houston without heat or water, and I have had plenty. Having been on both ends of the spectrum, I can say that there are some things that bring dignity and some that don’t. We want to be different from the philosophy of ‘we will only feed you if you listen to our theology.’ That is not the Methodist way. We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”