Bread for Life, aka The Food Pantry

Collegeside Bread for Life, aka The Food Pantry

Moving parts. So many moving parts.

That’s how Brandon Pruitt explains the history of the Food Pantry ministry that has grown and thrived through works of love by Collegeside members:

            From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16

No one person takes credit for the conception, growth, and successes associated with the Food Pantry: Each gives credit to God’s amazing willingness to work through us, his children, and then each person goes on to mention many names in the history and continued development of the program.

The entire Collegeside church is a part of the Bread for Life ministry, some members through direct contact with people in need, some through background work, many through the Sunday School and individual donations that fund the program, and everyone through prayers for people in the community who are in need.

One of the beautiful “cogs” that kept the ministry growing was Bill and Joan Nave, who recently stepped down from overall responsibility for the program, a job they agreed to take when they first moved to Cookeville as a retired couple. “All the people the Pantry helped were sweet and thankful, and we miss them all,” remembers Joan.

Bill and Joan’s dedication to those in need set the tone for the entire Pantry ministry. This couple was dedicated to helping anyone who needed help. Bill would even deliver to homes. “If they said they needed food, we gave them food,” according to Joan, and that attitude, free of judgment, continues to be the mission of the Pantry:

Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

The Pantry continues to serve more and more of those in need through prayers, volunteers, donations…and the work of Dick Reeves.

Dick and Dawn Reeves are now coordinators for the Bread for Life Food Pantry, a responsibility that includes funds that are decreasing at the same time that needs are increasing. The number of people served grew from 15,554 in 2011 to 18,620 in 2014 while donations steadily declined during this period. Dick responded to the problem by working to lower the cost per ration, down from $11.50 in 2011 to $7.02 in 2014. More of his steadfast work and his calculations are explained in the chart on the bulletin board near the Pantry door.

Dick and Dawn continue to develop the Pantry as a safe place to sit and talk and ask for prayers, not just a room for passing out food. They agree that the payback for all the work is the opportunity to help people without judging them. They treasure the relationships they are building with all those who come for help and with fellow volunteers. Dawn smiles as she thinks about the pies made by Miss May and about Roger Payne, a farmer who plants a special garden just to supply the Pantry with fresh produce.

Mike McCormick, who coordinated worship services for a few years, underscored the importance of interacting with people who came for help: “As I talked with folks and heard about their families and their lives, I developed insights and attachments to individuals. Without this fruit, these relationships to real people, we have nothing.”

Spending time with the people who came for help, learning about the needs and hopes of their lives, quickly became a major focus of the Pantry. Jerry Jared and Dave Edmonds worked to add to the ministry a worship time to share God’s Word through Bible devotionals, singing, and prayer. Through the years a parade of worship leaders came to help, including coordinators Mike McCormick, Brandon Pruitt, and Rick Love.

Some volunteers found themselves filling a needed service by just being available to listen to anyone who showed up at the doors and wanted to talk. These volunteers soon found that many people desperately sought the prayers of the ministry group and of the congregation at Collegeside. Among those who listen to prayer requests and convey them to ministry leaders and the congregation, who man tables for distribution, and who ensure quick and efficient service are Elizabeth Bryant, Debbie Work, Pam Toline, Geni Powers, and Ann Breeding.

Michelle Lancaster, often referred to as the backbone of the program, has been a driving force since the early days when the Pantry distributed food from the small rooms under the Baptistry. The Pantry quickly outgrew the small space and finally moved to its present location when the rooms downstairs were flooded once again after a particularly hard rain storm.

One of Michelle’s many roles developed over the years includes being in charge of getting the food ready for distribution. She manages the actual pantry and on Wednesdays oversees a small but hardworking army of volunteers to fill bags. Rebecca Johnson, Kandy Smith, Nola Ethridge, and Mary O’Mara are among these dedicated workers.

The list of Pantry helpers is long and always changing as people find ways to use their time, energy, and talents to help out. A complete list may be impossible to compile, but mentioning a few more duties and roles and participants may help others to think of ways to be a part of this ministry.

Kidside groups spend hours preparing stacks of grocery bags to be filled with food, Teenside volunteers carry groceries to cars, and UCSC college students complete odd jobs around the Pantry and often lead worship times by delivering devotionals or leading singing when Jake Lockhart asks for volunteers. Zach Henson brings groups of teens from the Jefferson Avenue congregation to carry bags to cars, and the Mothers of Preschoolers group, MOPS, that meets at Collegeside donates mounds of children’s clothing.

Harold and Louise Hammock and Lenin and Paula Ruiz help with communication with the hearing impaired and with Spanish-speaking families. Eddie Clark lends support for extra help with gas or utilities when needed. David McDonald and Bryan Franklin are on hand for odd jobs, especially those involving heavy lifting. Will and Dianne Lee, always ready to lend a hand, are familiar faces during Pantry hours.

Anna Lancaster has found a special way to use her talents by looking after the children of workers during Pantry hours. Raye Ann Simmons evidently flies around the halls as she works to meet needs for both guests and workers.

Other unsung heroes of the project are the ones who lend their time and muscle to loading and delivering goods from the Second Harvest food bank to the Pantry every week.

Sharon Reels, the bundle of energy who organizes and distributes donated clothing, remembers when Mary Alice Kinslow gave her some bags of clothes to give to needy families. The clothing ministry just grew and grew from that point. Sharon works at least two afternoons a week arranging and displaying to get ready for Pantry guests. She loves meeting so many people and says all the work makes her feel good, not tired. Her tireless, happy attitude gives a lift to everyone at the Pantry.

Brandon Pruitt sees three main goals for the Bread of Life Ministry:

  • Subsidizing physical needs
  • Building relationships
  • Supporting spiritual growth

Through the steadfast work of Bill and Joan Nave, the tireless love of Dick and Dawn Reeves, the quiet energy of Michelle Lancaster, and the continuous work of so many, our community is blessed. The Bread for Life Food Pantry builds on the rich history of the program to continue to meet needs of the community and to give Collegeside the beautiful opportunity to live lives as Christ-centered people. The ministry helps Collegeside make Matthew 25:35 a living part of our lives:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…

-Donna Smith