"Be. Hope." is our focus for Charge Conference this year. The Indiana United Methodist Church is encouraging us to tell stories of hope in our churches and community. These are the stories of hope I am sharing with other UM churches throughout Indiana. I hope they inspire you to be hope where ever you are.
We provide an afterschool program (KICK) every other week. A year ago, we had roughly twelve students per meeting. God doubled that number to an average of 25 kids per meeting and 46 kids coming through the program this last year. We have doubled our volunteers serving these children as well. Almost all of the elementary aged kids served through our Food Pantry attend KICK regularly. At the end of the school year, we invited our KICK kids to our “Summer of Service” Challenge and asked them to do one service project over the summer. Sixteen kids participated in acts of service including visiting the local nursing home, cleaning tables at the Summer Feed Program, raising money for Relay for Life, and helping advertise for VBS. One of our KICK girls had a baby sister this summer, and our KICK leaders were able to reach out to her family with meals and gifts, and now Mom and Dad are married and excited about visiting us for Sunday worship.
Our census for our Food Pantry is up as well, mainly because recipients are sharing this resources out of compassion for their neighbors who are struggling. A year ago this summer, a young family came to use the food pantry. Yesterday the woman came into use the pantry for the first time in a year separated due to domestic violence. She had lost her transportation. I glanced out the window to see how she had gotten here and there was a neighbor and pantry recipient as well. This neighbor did not have lots of material resources to help, but knew the church was a resource she could offered. As I helped, the neighbor asked about youth group for this woman’s son. Another food pantry recipient had stopped in earlier in the week offering garden produce. She said she would take fresh produce to the battered neighbor tomorrow. Our Food Pantry is empowering people to share resources with each other.
The town park was vandalized to the point where equipment was not safe. LaFontaine UMC saw this as an opportunity to reach out. Not only did the church raise funds for a new playground fund, but they took it a step further. On May 15, the church participated in “Change the World” Sunday. Along with other community building activities, a team cleared small trees, shrubs, and brush from the “sledding hill” that had not been functional the winter before.
But God was not done. The people of our congregation noticed that with the closing of the town’s elementary school, there was no place for children to receive free meals over the summer months. This summer over twenty volunteers fed an average of 30 kids and adults weekly through our federally funded Summer Feed Program. God didn’t just use this program to feed families. God used it to build community. Everyday kids would stop in my office and ask me to have lunch with them. Parents would chat and kids would invite friends. A food pantry girl brought clothes to give away on the “share table.” A food pantry boy stayed after and swept up the floors. Another boy took home a piggy bank and brought it back full for Relay for Life. Little boys who were going to summer school took home free kids books. God did so much more through the feeding program than we anticipated. We expected to feed physically hungry people. God took it and made into a place that filled souls. He used it to create community in our town.
Through KICK and the Summer Feeding program we expanded VBS from serving seven kids in 2015 to serving thirty-five in 2016. God continues to expand our ministry to the unchurched as we continue to be faithful to those he has placed in our hands.