Delaware church inspired to feed hungry families
WILMINGTON, Del. — The Cedars Church of Christ found an interesting way to revive itself.
Oh, frozen meats and fresh fruits and vegetables helped, too.
Less than a year ago, the 120-member congregation in this city of 71,000 souls had a small food closet that served a few dozen families a month.
But then church members Will and Amber Cash — alarmed by the prevalence of hungry families in Delaware — felt moved to do more.
“In rough numbers, one in four people in the state of Delaware experience hunger in some fashion,” said Will Cash, 33, citing the 242,000 residents served by the Food Bank of Delaware in a recent year.
“So when I saw that, I got really passionate about it … and I don’t feel like we can do enough,” added the middle-class father of two. “Our faith demands that we stand up and help the people that we live near and around.”
Mike Spokony serves as an elder of the Cedars Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Cash proposed to the congregation’s elders that the church partner with the food bank and distribute groceries to needy families one night a week.
“Of course, it was an easy idea to approve,” said Mike Spokony, one of the elders.
But no one had any idea just how big the ministry would grow — and how fast.
“At one point, we had this crazy notion that we’d just go to the food bank ourselves,” Amber Cash said, “and we’d pick up the stuff and hand it out.”
The first night, four people showed up to receive food.
But as Spokony explained, “It has grown exponentially since then, to the point that we now provide food for over 300 people each week.”
On a recent Thursday night, the church distributed more than 7,000 pounds of groceries — enough to fill six Ford F-150 trucks, Will Cash said.
“Now, there’s a small army of people that are truly dedicated to making sure that this continues,” he said.
In the past, Cedars members picked up extra peanut butter, soup and pasta sauce at the supermarket and deposited the items in the food closet.
By partnering with the food bank, the church buys nonperishable goods as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and frozen meats at reduced wholesale prices.
“They’re definitely making an impact in the community,” said Kim Turner, communications director for the Food Bank of Delaware. “I would say they are one of our benchmarks for our churches who are distributing food to those in need.”
“In rough numbers, one in four people in the state of Delaware experience hunger in some fashion. So when I saw that, I got really passionate about it … and I don’t feel like we can do enough.” Will Cash, member, Cedars Church of Christ
MORE CHURCHES SERVING THE POOR?
The Cedars church always has supported good works, from the campus ministry at the University of Delaware to the Ghana Bible College, Spokony said.
“But we didn’t have a big rallying point that we could actually put our hands on as a congregation,” he said.
Now they do, and the Cedars church is not alone.
Across the nation, a growing number of Churches of Christ operate thriving food pantries.
Mike Wiist, minister for the Murray Park Church of Christ in Utah, inspects an ample supply of frozen pizzas. (PHOTO BY TIMBRA WIIST)
Congregations such as the Western Hills Church of Christ in Temple, Texas, and the Laurel Church of Christ in Maryland feed hundreds of families a month, as does God’s Helping Hands — a ministry supported by Detroit-area Churches of Christ.
In Chicago, the Northwest Church of Christ distributes about 1,600 pounds of beans, dry milk and other food a week.
“I’m not an economist, so I dare not comment on economic times,” Shank said. “But churches do seem increasingly involved in helping the poor.”
Besides food pantries, Shank points to efforts such as teens painting homes, congregations providing school supplies and churches housing the homeless.
In Utah, the Murray Park Church of Christ in the Salt Lake City area intervened earlier this year after a community agency shut down its food pantry.
The Murray Park church took over as a distributor for the Utah Food Bank and provided 500 people with a week’s worth of food the first month, minister Mike Wiist said.
By the fourth month, that number jumped to 2,652.
“Jesus, of course, fed the 5,000, so we at least know we have permission,” Wiist quipped.
“All in all,” he said, “it seems like people are being fed physically, and opportunities are being created to feed them spiritually.”
“I’m not an economist, so I dare not comment on economic times. But churches do seem increasingly involved in helping the poor.” Harold Shank, president, Ohio Valley University
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Back in Delaware, Cedars member Sue Maynard, 77, devotes 40 to 50 hours a week to the ministry. Maynard, along with her husband, Ed, helps organize the pantry and dozens of members who volunteer.
“It has revived people and gotten people involved again,” said Maynard, a part of the congregation since 1947.
Members with trucks and minivans visit the food bank weekly to replenish the pantry.
“They go inside, and they handpick the best that they can find there,” Amber Cash said. “They rifle through the frozen food to find the best steaks, the best hamburger, the best fish.”
They shuck freshly grown corn and make salads from loose produce.
“They really go the extra mile,” she said. “The customers that come through here say that we’re the best food pantry in the area. It’s not just hard work. It’s a lot of love.”
Sue Maynard, pictured with her husband, Ed, works 40 to 50 hours a week to help organize the food pantry ministry. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
THIN LINE BETWEEN STARVING, SERVING
The ministry has exposed members to the often invisible needs of friends and neighbors — some of whom may be employed but not earn enough to buy groceries and pay their electric bills, Will Cash said.
In a Gallup survey last year, 22.1 percent of Delaware residents reported that there was at least one time in the previous 12 months when they did not have the money to buy the food they or their families needed. Only Mississippi and Alabama had higher percentages.
Brad Carman preaches for the Cedars Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Most people don’t comprehend the thin line between being able to afford groceries and needing emergency food assistance, Will Cash said.
At one point, some members questioned whether there was a need for a food ministry, preacher Brad Carman said.
“Once we started this up, we found out that there are homeless people living under the bridge within 400 yards of the church during the winter,” Carman said.
From the beginning, the church’s leaders saw the pantry as a way to feed bodies and souls, Spokony said, although the weekly distribution operates under government parameters.
“You can’t preach to them, and you can’t say, ‘If you come to church, we’ll give you more food’ or anything like that,” Spokony said. “You can offer to pray for them when you bring their stuff to their car. You can invite them to church.”
On a recent Sunday, 14 food pantry clients attended the worship assembly. Three of those helped have been baptized.
From Will Cash’s perspective, the church must remain focused on feeding the hungry — and God will take care of the rest.
“If people show up on Sunday,” he said, “that’s God watering the seed.”
Amber Cash enjoys a laugh as she displays fresh tomatoes in the food pantry of the Cedars Church of Christ in Wilmington, Del. She and her husband, Will, felt moved to help feed the hungry in Delaware. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)