Church members serve at Southfork Mobile Home Park
By Sonia Duggan
Mission work is a large part of what many churches do to reach out to the less fortunate in their communities and even those abroad.
Thankfully, for Southfork Mobile Home Park residents, some members of the United Methodist Church in Wylie realized that the children in the park didn’t have access to healthy lunches once school was out. They wanted to give them something to eat, at least a couple of times a week because many of the families were dependent of lunches that were available at school, sometimes free or at a reduced price.
The group took action and a new outreach was born in June 2007. Referred to as “The Big Feed” which stands for “But In God, all things are possible,” from Matthew 19:26, the program is a well-oiled machine eight years later.
The church delivers lunch two days per week to the park, feeding almost 200 children and their families. They receive a brown bag lunch of a ham, turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a juice pouch, an apple, a cheese stick and a granola bar. On top of that they have the opportunity to pick out a book to read and return the following week. Some children pick up multiple lunches to feed their families or neighbors.
Many different volunteers have handled the Big Feed over the years, but this year, rather than having one person coordinating the program, the church has a whole Sunday school class that has taken on that role.
“The Arise & Shine class helps with volunteer work, helps find volunteers, monitors the online sign-ups, writes newsletter articles to let church members know the needs and how they can help, etc.,” volunteer Beverly Lenoir said.
There are about 20 volunteers who work to make sandwiches throughout the summer and about 20 individuals who help deliver and serve sandwiches throughout the summer. Some are regulars and help at least once a week, and others have only helped a few times.
“We need about seven people each time we make lunches or deliver them,” Lenoir said.
Church members leave bread; lunchmeat or cheese in the kitchen at the church depending on the request for the week and volunteer Kim Johnson does all the bulk shopping. Volunteers make the sandwiches on Sunday and Wednesday evenings for delivery on Mondays and Thursdays. Linda Staller heads up the sandwich making team.
The Big Feed is completely funded through donations. “The Vacation Bible School kids brought CapriSun drinks that are used in the lunches, and the Girl Scouts have donated food items for several years,” Lenoir said.
“Bo and I have been coming seven years,” Dixie Burns, longtime volunteer said. “We’ve watched some families grow up literally.”
Burns said over the years the church has developed a partnership with Southfork, not only helping in the summer with the lunches but by providing baskets of food at Thanksgiving and an angel tree at Christmas.
Another faithful couple is James and Marilyn Rice, having served multiple years. They not only help serve, they monitor the volunteer signup page.
Sue Benson is the “book lady.” She is a retired librarian who joined the church last year with her husband Dana. Sue has taken over the book distribution and donations carefully managed over the years. “Even though we give out a lot of books, somehow we always end up with as much or more books at the end of the summer,” Sue said.
Neil Brown helps out twice a week driving his pickup truck so they can load up the carts they use for books and sandwiches on the truck. He’s been coming to help for six years and can’t really remember when he hasn’t served.
“The only time I haven’t made it is if I had an appointment or I was sick,” he said.
Cathy Nichols, Social Director for Southfork, manages the flow of traffic at the recreation center at the park directing families where to go. She makes sure the lunch program is in the neighborhood newsletter and on lunch days a sign is posted to let residents know. In addition, Nichols arranges multiple programs to help out the residents from pool parties to craft project, to movie nights.
“We’ve been blessed with wonderful church people helping out here,” Nichols said.
Lenoir summed her thoughts on the program up quite simply.
“I love getting to know the people who come to get lunches and giving them a smile and a welcome. I love hearing the latest total of books read from the young lady who has read well over 100 books this summer. I love knowing that the children who take two or three lunches with them will be able to have lunch for the next two or three days. I love the little lady who says every day, in Spanish, that she thanks God for us and what we do.”