By Cindy Solomon

Funded in part by a grant from the Golden Cross Foundation, members of Leeville UMC in Lebanon, Tennessee, break ground for an expanded food pantry. Founded in 2009, food pantry volunteers now deliver more than 100 food boxes twice a month to low-income seniors.

Leeville United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, received a grant for $7,845 from the Golden Cross Foundation, a non-profit corporation and extension ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. Money from this grant was used toward adding on to the church’s SALT (Serving at the Lord’s Table) food pantry.

Founded in 2009, the ministry initially served people who were living in tents at Timberline Campground in Wilson County.

“At the time, the economy wasn’t good and people were losing their jobs and homes. Brother Larry Pedigo – a former pastor at Leeville – and other church members were determined to do something to help the campground’s residents. Each week, they took food and helped stocked a small onsite food pantry,” said SALT pantry coordinator Joyce Gaines.

Over time, other area churches joined the ministry. By 2014, the economy improved and needs at Timberline decreased. Ministry leaders and volunteers reevaluated the ministry’s mission. While Wilson County has several food banks and food pantries, SALT volunteers realized they could serve area residents in a unique way.

“Most food pantries require recipients to come to them,” said Gaines. “SALT volunteers deliver boxes of food twice a month to low-income seniors. Senior adults frequently have difficulty getting to the grocery store due to health problems, limited mobility, and/or lack of transportation. In addition, fixed incomes, medication costs, unexpected repairs, and high utility bills means seniors can’t always keep food in their pantries.”

Due to increasing demand for food box deliveries – SALT volunteers deliver boxes to over 100 households twice a month– the original pantry space began bursting at the seams.

“Last year we began planning for a 900 square-foot pantry addition,” said Gaines. “Since God has regularly supplied our needs, our pastor at the time – Brother Bill Owen – encouraged us to dream big.”

Donations came in from church partners and regular supporters. Halfway to meeting their goal of raising $20,000, SALT members learned about, applied for, and received a Golden Cross Foundation grant.

“That gave us the money we needed to begin,” said Gaines. “We received a building permit in April and had a ground-breaking ceremony in May.”

Since then, God has continued to affirm the SALT ministry by providing volunteers and materials needed for the pantry expansion.

“There have been so many times when someone offered a service or materials to us before we even asked,” said Gaines. “For example, one of our volunteers was talking to a young man who had grown up attending Leeville UMC who owns a construction business. When he heard about our need to lift 30’ pre-made roof trusses onto the building, he said he would bring his crew over to take care of it. By the end of the week, we had a new roof.”

Today, SALT’s vision is that no senior in Wilson County will go hungry. Volunteers – many who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s – hope to involve more church partners, enlisting them to have regular food drives, provide financial support, and send volunteers. They also encourage churches and social service groups to refer seniors in need to the program.

“I have had hospice workers, social workers, home health nurses, and other caregivers call and ask me to put people on a waiting list after they have gone into clients’ homes and realized the clients have no food,” said Gaines. “I have heard the relief in their voices when I told them we don’t have a waiting list – we can take care of their clients’ needs right away.”