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Volunteers chant “PROTEIN! VEGETABLES! SOY! RICE!” as they scoop ingredients into a MannaPack bag in the auditorium of The Park Church of Christ.
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Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Team building, outreach and a side of rice

Oklahoma church invites its community to serve the starving during a food-packing service project.

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TULSA, Okla. — That’s not worship music playing over The Park Church of Christ loudspeakers.

On this Friday afternoon, the usual, angelic a cappella gives way to the guitar riffs of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Volunteers wearing hairnets, plastic gloves and T-shirts that say “Jesus ♥ You” congregate around plastic tables.

Mitch Wilburn

Mitch Wilburn

In unison, the crowd proclaims, “PROTEIN! VEGETABLES! SOY! RICE!” as they fill and seal plastic bags labeled MannaPack.

“You just missed the most amazing moment of my ministry ever,” declares minister Mitch Wilburn, who’s also clad in a hairnet — for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent. The follically challenged preacher points to the far side of the auditorium. A truck driver, who just left, received a standing ovation for delivering the food the crew was packaging for people in need.

“He was wearing a Coors hat,” Wilburn says. And, at the moment they announced his name, the unmistakable synthesizer chords of Van Halen’s “Jump” came over the loudspeakers.

As Wilburn walks away to resume his work, he yells over his shoulder, “Don’t print that in The Christian Chronicle.”

But he forgot to say “off the record.”

Related: Nutritious meals for Kingdom Kids

The Tulsa congregation set a goal of producing 180,000 MannaPack bags in one weekend.

“And that’s going to take 800 volunteers — from the community and within our church,” says Tori Thomas on a brief break while coordinating the event. “And this is just the start. We hope for this to impact not only Tulsa but also communities around the world.”

Students from Union High School in Tulsa prepare rice for the MannaPack work stations.

Students from Union High School in Tulsa prepare rice for the MannaPack work stations.

The MannaPacks are bound for impoverished families in the West African nation of Burkina Faso and the Central American nation of Guatemala through nonprofits Convoy of Hope and Buckner International. Feed My Starving Children, another nonprofit, supplies the MannaPacks to organizations that distribute them around the globe — including war-torn nations like Haiti and Ukraine.

Minnesota-based Feed My Starving Children developed the recipe of white rice, textured soy and dehydrated vegetables in consultation with nutritionists. With six cups of boiling water and 20 minutes of prep time, one bag can feed six people.

As the volunteers carefully measure and pour the ingredients into the bags, church members including Debbie Loney and Gayla Garren gather in a room just off the auditorium. They take turns praying for the health and safety of the families who will receive the MannaPacks — and for the volunteers who are first-time visitors to the church.

Feed My Starving Children hosts events like this one, called MobilePacks, at locations across the nation, says Knox Huffman, the owner of Tulsa’s Tacos 4 Life, a quick-service Mexican restaurant with about 30 locations in the U.S. The chain donates a portion of each item purchased — be it a mango habanera taco or a fried chicken burrito — to the nonprofit.

“When we partner with somebody … we want people who represent God in a great way. The people of this church literally live that out”

“When we partner with somebody … we want people who represent God in a great way,” Huffman says. “The people of this church literally live that out. Every step of the way it was just love, love, love, love, caring. You can see Jesus spill out of them.”

Months before the packing event, all of the volunteer spots were filled, Huffman says. Some volunteers are members of The Park church, but others are from the community, including the track team from Tulsa’s Union High and members of the school’s student council.

Kenna Kellam, left, interviews a volunteer during the MobilePack.

Kenna Kellam, left, interviews a volunteer during the MobilePack.

With a microphone in hand, Kenna Kellam cheers on the volunteers, announcing updated totals of MannaPacks completed. She puts down the microphone to speak to the Chronicle, straining a bit to be heard over the music and cheers.

“It’s cool to see people use their specific gifts, given to them by the Lord, to just bless others,” says Kellam, a youth minister for The Park who works with young women in grades six through 12. “I have not packed a single thing, but I feel like God’s given me the gift of encouragement!”

Tori Thomas

Tori Thomas

Thomas, who grew up at The Park church, participated in her first MobilePack event about 10 years ago when she was a student at Jenks High School and a member of the track team. Her father, Allan Trimble, was the school’s longtime, legendary football coach. He brought student athletes to Anthem Church in nearby Broken Arrow to volunteer.

“There’s nothing that can grow a team dynamic like serving together,” Thomas says. “You get to know the people that you’re serving alongside, and you’re making a difference at the same time.”

Trimble knew about team building. In 22 seasons he led the Jenks Trojans to 13 championships in Oklahoma’s highest classification, making him the most successful high school coach in state history.

But his mission went far beyond football, his daughter says. The former elder of The Park church was all about “growing the Lord’s kingdom, doing it with people you love and with people you don’t know that you learn to love.”

Trimble, 56, died in December 2019 after a three-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS. His funeral drew more than 3,000 people to Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center in Tulsa.

Feed My Starving Children provides sinks and detailed hand-washing rules at MobilePacks.

Feed My Starving Children provides sinks and detailed hand-washing rules at MobilePacks.

He would be “absolutely ecstatic” about today’s packing event at The Park, says his daughter, who’s now 26.

“When I spoke at his funeral, one of the things I said to describe my dad was, ‘There’s always room for more.’ Having all of those people there truly was a reminder … that any interaction you have with anyone could change their life forever and could impact them and their salvation.

“That’s the way that I try to live my life — there’s always room for more when it’s bringing people toward the kingdom of God or changing people’s lives around the world.”

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. He is a deacon of the Memorial Road church. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: benevolence community outreach Feed My Starving Children feeding the hungry food pantry MannaPack MobilePacks National News The Park Church of Christ Top Stories

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