By Cindy Solomon

Elder’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Smyrna received a $1,600 grant from the Golden Cross Foundation, a ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. The grant helped buy food for a food pantry ministry.

Spearheading the ministry is Elder’s Chapel member Shelia Howse. After being challenged by a discipleship course to step out of her “boat” and explore a new ministry, Howse assessed the needs of local senior citizens. She quickly discovered their biggest need was food.

“I was told by seniors that it all boiled down to a choice,” said Howse. “Either buy food and let their medicine go, or buy the medicine and go without food.”

Howse brought the need and idea for a food pantry to members of her congregation. After receiving the idea joyfully and enthusiastically, members launched the food pantry in 2017.

Initially serving 10–15 people in five families on a bi-weekly basis, the ministry has grown to serving 36–40 people bi-weekly. A majority of those benefitting from the food pantry are seniors 65 years and older who are raising and providing for their grandchildren.

“Over the last three years we have seen an increase of people blessed by Elder's Food Pantry,” said Howse. “The needs of people in our community, as well as people in surrounding areas, are being met.”

In addition to addressing people’s basic need for food, the ministry touches spiritual aspects of people’s lives.

“We engage in vital and fruitful spiritual conversation and prayer when requested,” said Howes. “Seniors are also donating food and volunteering to work in the food pantry. People from all races are coming together and unifying for a common purpose of serving others and being the hands and feet of God.”

Now more than ever, the food pantry is a vital ministry.

“Without the Golden Cross grant, our food pantry would not be thriving today,” said Howse. “Our numbers have increased 100 percent over the last six months due to the COVID-19 virus. We thank God that we are able to continue the food pantry during these times of uncertainty. The nutrition needs of seniors and others within the community goes on in spite of the virus and we at Elder's UMC are here to aid in meeting their needs.”