Sharing God's Love with Food from the Heart
By: Sherri Gragg
“Are they here yet? Are they here yet?”
Each Thursday, the children begin stopping by the Lead Counselor of Duke Elementary Crystal Bryant’s office in anticipation of a special delivery. The children aren’t excited about new playground equipment, or an ice cream party. They are eager to receive the food bags from Shepherd of the Heart UMC, Pearland that will feed them all weekend long.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13 million American children live in homes where there is simply not enough to eat on a regular basis. These children often depend on free and reduced cost school breakfasts and lunches for their nutritional needs.
And for some of these children, that means they go hungry each weekend.
Shepherd of the Heart UMC Finds Its Mission
Three years ago, Shepherd of the Heart UMC began to look for a way to both serve their community and get involved in local schools. When they found that many local children were going to school hungry, they knew they had found their purpose.
The church founded Food from the Heart, a ministry that packs food bags to feed local children over the long weekends and school holidays. In their first year of ministry Food from the Heart worked with one school, but soon word spread about the church that shared God’s love with children by ensuring they had enough to eat.
“Later that first year, another school heard about us and what we were doing,” said Pastor Christi Conway. “The school counselor reached out to us and said they had some foster kids who needed meals for the weekends. They asked if we could help. We said, ‘Sure!’”
This year, Food from the Heart has added two more schools to their ministry. During the 2017-2018 school year, they project that they will provide an astonishing 11,200 meals to kids in need. It is a tremendous undertaking for a small church with an average attendance of 100.
A Community Effort
Shepherd of the Heart is doing the unimaginable by ensuring that everyone is part of the ministry. They often pack bags as a congregation immediately after Sunday worship. On those days, they have close to 100 percent participation from service attendees. Children as young as four or five-years-old join the food bag assembly line. The church’s day school helps out from time to time as well. Shepherd of the Heart also hosts community pack days, and local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops who want to serve. The church even included the ministry in their Super Bowl celebration, packing 300 bags on the evening of the big game.
Food from the Heart has not only changed the lives of hungry children, it has also profoundly impacted church members. The entire community of faith has been united in sharing God’s love with the local children in a tangible way. “We have seen people join the church over this,” Conway said. “They just so happen to come on a Sunday morning when we are packing bags and want to be a part of a community that doesn’t just talk about loving their neighbor. Instead, we are doing something about it.”
School counselors have expressed how deeply grateful the children and their parents are for Food from the Heart. Often when a child misses school on food bag distribution day because of illness, their parents will call to ask if they can come pick up their child’s food. Shepherd of the Heart’s commitment to loving the children in their community ensures that the answer to “Are they here yet?” will always be “Yes.”