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Seven children were not enough. And for Terry and Marty Groves, 350 isn’t too many.
When the pandemic forced a public school transition to online learning this past spring, the Lubbock, Texas, couple knew kids would be hungry. The Monterey Church of Christ members have learned a lot by raising their own large family and spending the last 20-plus years ministering to local schoolchildren.
So in March, the Groveses shelved their own plan for God’s and figured out how to get healthy snacks to the kids they wouldn’t be seeing in the classroom, even though they “don’t usually do food,” Marty said.
A quarter-century ago, six of the Groveses’ seven children — four sons and three daughters now ages 29 to 42 — were still at home when the couple transitioned from youth ministry to the nonprofit world.
In 1995, Terry and Marty co-founded the National Center for Parenthood Enrichment with Marty’s father, Skipper Shipp, and two others. Three years later, supported by a state grant, the center launched the Lubbock Youth Leadership Academy. In the course of a regular school year, Terry and Marty speak, conduct workshops, lead summer camps and write curriculum, working closely with school staff and volunteers.
FOR SUCH A TIME: This story is the first in a series on Christians spreading hope and love during the pandemic. Who should we write about next? We welcome your nominations.
The center was begun on a shoestring. And faith.
Marty remembers the first time she and Terry entered a school in 1998 to conduct a workshop in one of Lubbock’s impoverished neighborhoods.
“The kids walked in and asked, ‘What’s there to eat? Where’s breakfast?’” she said. “We didn’t realize how hungry these kids were, not just for leadership, but for physical food.”
“The minute we knew the pandemic was up, we called the food bank,” Terry said. Initially, personnel with Lubbock’s South Plains Food Bank said no and argued that the schools would still have a food program. The couple knew that would not be enough and that these kids did not live in homes where the pantry had extras for snacks or missed meals.
“We don’t want to hear a no,” Terry said.
Marty said persuading the food bank took “an act of Congress and God’s blessing,” but the nonprofit made a one-month commitment to supply enough food for 115 sacks per week, each containing 14 to 17 snacks, that would be assembled and delivered by volunteers.
Over time the list of children needing food assistance grew to 350, and except for a lapse in late summer, the food bank’s commitment kept pace. So have the Groveses. Terry even delivered a carload on his birthday in November.
The couple’s team of volunteers includes Christians from Monterey and other area churches as well as friends and volunteers from local businesses.
Trey Laverty, director of sales development for Slate Group, didn’t know Terry or Marty or anything about their program when he called the Volunteer Center of Lubbock.
“Our business was slowing down,” Laverty said of the national printing company. But he wanted to keep employees on the payroll and give them a chance to help in the community.
Laverty, who attends the First Baptist Church in nearby Shallowater, Texas, is the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. He has come to know the Groveses and described them as hardworking people with hearts of gold.
“They want to help out. They’re very unselfish,” he said, adding that he was impressed when he went to help load bags of food for distribution and saw the couple — both in their 60s — working alongside his employees.
“The bags we were packing up — they’re not light,” the businessman recalled. “They’re heavy, and there were a lot of them, and we loaded them in the back of personal trucks, and it’s tiring, and they were right there helping unload.”
Parents with seven kids have experience hauling groceries.
Leslie Moss, a retired volunteer and member of the First United Methodist Church of Lubbock, has known Marty since their sons were in first grade. The moms still laugh about Kirk Moss coming home after spending the night with Jacob Groves for the first time, telling her, “Mom! You won’t believe the amount of cereal at the Groves house!”
When the food bank ran out of food in the summer and called Marty to say it had nothing left for snack packs, Marty said her longtime friend was part of an answered prayer.
“We had 104 bags to take out that afternoon — none of our deliverers knew there was a problem,” Marty said. “We prayed that morning about 104 snacks we needed by noon.”
She went to Moss’ house, and the first thing her friend asked was, “Is there any way you might need more snacks for today?” Moss’ church had 125 snacks left over from a project, and she wondered if Marty could use them.
“I said, ‘I don’t believe this is happening, but I do believe it. I’m picking them up at 11 a.m.,’” Marty said. “And I told her the story. It was such a direct answer to prayer.”
By that evening, Moss had called several friends and raised $1,500 for more food to help get the project through the remaining summer weeks. Soon, the rooms and hallways of the Groves home were stacked high with boxes of crackers, Goldfish and Slim Jims.
By fall, the food bank was restocked and supporting the project again.
Kris Rendon was only 3 years old when the leadership program began in 1998, and she tagged along with her sisters and brothers. Rendon, also from a family of seven kids, is now a single mom, and when Terry delivered a snack pack to her son, she asked if she could help by delivering in her neighborhood.
“There’s a story every day,” Terry said of the volunteers.
Diane Fincher and her husband, Cecil, a Lubbock physician, worship at Monterey. Diane has volunteered in the past with elementary leadership programs. Now, she dons a mask and gloves to leave sacks of food on recipients’ porches. The couple met the Groves family through their children, who all were in the youth group together.
“I was impressed they had so many children, I wanted to get to know them,” Diane Fincher said. She came to admire Terry and Marty for connecting with neighborhoods with real needs.
Sarah Pena also attends Monterey but didn’t know the Groves family until she got a call after signing a volunteer list.
Pena, a nurse who now works in purchasing for University Medical Center in Lubbock, enlisted her own children — ages 14, 11 and 7 — to help with deliveries.
“This has taught my kids so much — it’s given them servant attitudes,” Pena said.
Marty and Terry remind her, she said, of the story of Esther and being called “for such a time as this.”
“God placed them where they needed to be. It’s evident in everything they do.”
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