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Lauren Ferguson
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Lauren Ferguson

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Joplin, Missouri 64804-1037


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Southwest's Spotlight Ministries: Cassville UMC's Food Pantry

posted on August 19


In our first series of our Spotlight Ministries, we are featuring Cassville United Methodist Church and the Community Food Pantry they provide. These questions are answered by Janet Mills who is Cassville's Food Pantry Director/Administrative Assistant. 

How would you describe this ministry in three words?

Nourishment, Compassion, Transformation

 

Can you tell us about a volunteer moment that spoke to you?

A young adult man had been volunteering in the Food Pantry for several months helping move food inventory around and carry out food boxes to clients. He had a cheerful demeanor, never complained, did not ask for favors, food or other handouts, nor did he exhibit a sense of need. He rarely mentioned the context of his life circumstances to be anything extraordinary or unusual. In passing one day I asked him, “How is your day going?” His reply, “Well better than usual.” I ask, “Why is that?” He answers, “I moved today into a little cottage house.” I continue, “Where did you live before?” His casual reply, “I was living in my car.” I was completely stunned because although he had ample opportunity, he had never said a word over multiple months of helping us out about the fact that he was homeless. I have learned that God sends our helpers from unexpected places. This young man was helping out to provide service to others and was not motivated by seeing what he could get from us. His gift of time and energy was invested in our ministry without any expectation of reward. 

What prompted you to volunteer/partner with this ministry?

The Food Pantry was born out of a church brainstorming workshop and began one year prior to my accepting a part time job as church administrative assistant. Part of my primarily clerical job description included handing out food boxes to persons in need who arrived on a drop-in basis. At first the pantry was low key and serving around 30 families per month when I took over. There were no guidelines or assistance handed over to me, just the concept to give out the food that a mission committee would stock. Over the years food programs were added to the drop-in Pantry including TEFAP Commodities, CSFP Senior Box Commodities, and inclusion as a recipient of Retail Pick Up Program which allowed every aspect of the food operations to grow dramatically. The food ministries combined now serve on average 550 families comprised of 1,250 individuals each month. A church part-time assistant job transformed its focus and responsibilities from basic church communications into a full time schedule largely occupied by management of a multi-faceted food service operation for benefit of the high numbers of food insecure persons in our community. Fighting food insecurity became my focus and passion and I have never looked back. 


What are the challenges that you face with this ministry? 

I have been challenged to accept that every day will deliver the unexpected. Since volunteers are by definition volunteering, there is built in inconsistency in attendance, retention, and commitment for a variety of reasons. A volunteer schedule is by design a skeleton plan of a hoped for outcome that remains to be reconfigured by reality in the moment. Managing a pantry is a leap of faith every single day that things will all come together for good. The days do almost always come together for good ultimately, but usually not without some stress and surprises mixed in. I have learned that the key is to be flexible and always sincerely thankful and appreciative for all forms of resources pouring in both in labor and food arenas. Working with the food is a physically demanding job and we seem to continually be seeking able bodied volunteers who can help us with food intake, storage, and delivery. I am challenged not to physically overwork the retired workforce available to us. It is not a good day when your most reliable male volunteer confesses to you that he has developed a hernia.


How do you feel this ministry is shaping the community?

Where we are here in Barry County there is a county wide population of just under 36,000 people. That population of our entire county would compare to the size of other Missouri towns such as Jefferson City, Cape Girardeau, or Oakville. Through our Community Food Pantry located in the center of Barry County we serve the entire county with food assistance. Although Cassville itself has a population of 3,300 people we are reaching out to serve the same number of people similar to the population of a medium size city. The difference is that the residents we serve are spread out over the entire county which expands to over 790 square miles overall. Sounds like quite a challenge – doesn’t it? The amazing thing about it is the power of collaboration within this small town that has stood up to that challenge. The fact that the population is so spread out creates obstacles in reaching everyone in the outlying areas. We are not the only food pantry in the county, as there exists within Barry county 10 small town communities, and not all but some of them have their own food pantry. The fact that people are so spread out does make it interesting and I believe has led us to have much diversity in our experiences operating the pantry. 21.4 percent of the population of Barry County is at or below poverty level. 24 percent of children under the age of 18 are living at poverty level. Many of the elderly that we serve are living on fixed incomes that fall well under $900 per month. It is rewarding to help all ages, but the innocent children and struggling elderly are ones who we feel strongly about supporting and helping. Our visitors are not just struggling with food insecurity, but generally have layers of issues going on with multiple personal obstacles, including health problems, many to the point of permanent physical disability, mental health issues, and consequences of addiction upon families in disturbance of the family unit. We utilize those who are talented with communication skills to check in our visitors. While interviewing a food client we place a high priority upon trying to show each visitor dignity, seeking to find out where their needs are, and to determine what their situation is. This interface is the opportunity to show the love of Christ and our compassion for them while we take the time to listen. No matter how busy we are, or how many people are waiting in line, I encourage a full effort to go into this exchange. It is amazing how touched people can feel when someone will take a minute to listen to them and it is a starting point to build relationships over time. 

What is the goal for this ministry?

The mission statement of our pantry is based upon Psalm 9:18 ESV, “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.” The Community Food Pantry located at Cassville United Methodist Church provides emergency food and personal care supplies for persons experiencing crisis or exceptional circumstances of life challenges in various forms. The life challenges may include one or more of the following causes: unemployment, relocation of residence, disruption in the makeup of the family unit, fire or burn-outs of residence, temporary or chronic medical problems, incidences of severe weather or seasonal related inconveniences, disruption in income flow in the household, inadequate fixed income status, inability to provide for the basic needs required to sustain a healthy home, and homelessness. The goal of the Community Food Pantry at Cassville United Methodist Church is to provide Barry County residents who are struggling with food insecurity and poverty with emergency food and personal care resources. This agency is the go- to destination for Barry County families and individuals who are struggling to put food on their tables. The agency desires to be a reliable source of resources for all eligible persons in need. The expectation is that we are able to provide a generous supply of healthy food items concentrating upon the ability to offer nutritious food groups including the more expensive protein foods. Our directive is to alleviate temporary difficulties of individuals and families who are struggling and to transform the home environment of those who have immediate needs for assistance into places where their lives can focus more upon wellness and productivity instead of the struggle to survive. Our ultimate goal is to show our neighbors that they are not ignored or forgotten by God. We display and offer the love of Jesus Christ as a transforming power, hope, and encouragement to those who are challenged with the obstacles of poverty and crisis. 


Thank you Cassville UMC for the continuous work you do in your community. We truly thank you for being the church!