Church Reaches Out to Community by Delivering Groceries
By Rev. Trey Witzel
We all know the struggles, difficulties, and sorrows caused by COVID-19. They are terrible and traumatic, and we wish they had never happened. Yet it is now our reality. I am reminded of an exchange from Frodo and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo, scared and grieving the loss of his old life, now deep in the mines of Moria, tells Gandalf, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf, not wanting to brush aside the authentic emotion but also knowing that the mission must go on, responds to dear Frodo, saying, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Is Gandalf not echoing the same sentiment of Esther 4:14 where Mordecai encourages Esther by reminding her that “Perhaps you were born for such a time as this.” Every church, every Christian, is now faced with deciding what to do for such a time as this.
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
At Edmond First United Methodist Church, our mission statement is “Connecting people with God and Neighbor,” and this spiritual thesis statement holds true today, even with an empty sanctuary. Before COVID-19, my job duties were mostly preaching and teaching; now, I find myself focused on missions, which, in a way, is still preaching and teaching, but without words.
We have three main areas of mission right now: we are continuing a free Tuesday lunch for those in our church’s neighborhood; we shop for local families; we are helping provide ninety-plus bags of groceries to families of elementary students on free and reduced lunches, and we are about to launch a partnership program with the Oklahoma County Health Department and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. Each of these programs is inspired and enabled through a missional heart and connectional support.
Our free lunch on Tuesday serves approximately twenty meals—it was larger before the neighboring public library closed. Skyline Urban Ministry, an extension ministry of the Oklahoma Annual Conference, helped organize and launch our ministry. We’ve had to move away from our normal sixty-plus servers, giving young families and our youth an opportunity to serve. We’ve had to move from seated meals to bags-to-go. To try and replace the human connection we help facilitate, we give gifts of wooden crosses and scripture.
Our grocery shopping program has been a joint effort between those who need to stay inside for safety and to flatten the curve and those who can more safely shop or use grocery pick-up. The news did a TV segment, which expanded our reach. We’ve found that as the quarantine lasts longer, more and more people are signing up both to help and to be helped. This is giving our members a faithful outlet to share love and manage anxieties.
Handing out ninety-plus bags of groceries is a school-church partnership, where we paired with the school district to reach those on the margins of the school district, who were unable to access the free meals. Our church alone could not serve the students in need, so we partnered with two other United Methodist churches in our region. Working with three elementary school principals, we organized to provide groceries for their students on free and reduced lunch, and teachers did the delivery.
Because of our grocery delivery relationships, we’ve started a second food delivery program. The Oklahoma County Health Department pays local restaurants to provide meals for us to distribute. St. Luke’s UMC, the church we’ve partnered with, has a truck and additional volunteers that make this service possible. Our church helps fill in to cover shifts, as we drive to locations of need to drop off food.