By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
LAFAYETTE — The smell of chicken nuggets wafted through the fellowship hall at Calvary Baptist Church on this sticky Tuesday morning in late July.
It was 8:30 a.m., and a group of about a dozen volunteers was happily humming along like an assembly line.
In the kitchen, several ladies were watching the oven and putting the finishing touches on the baked goods. Things were also bustling in the dining area, where another group of volunteers, comprised of men and women of various ages, were stuffing bags with food and counting juice bottles.
Around mid-morning, the food was loaded up and placed into the designated “distribution vehicles.” The volunteers then delivered the lunch bags, going door-to-door in certain areas, to nearly 200 underprivileged children in rural Macon County.
It’s an act of love and generosity that has been provided all summer long, four days a week, by the team of volunteers from Calvary Baptist.
“I’ve just got the best people ever,” said Calvary Baptist pastor Johnny Beaver. “This (ministry) was not my idea. They came up with this, and I am just along for the ride.”
Betty Lipps and Julia King are the creative partners behind the ministry — “It was their brainchild,” said Beaver — and they set the menu for each day’s lunches. Lipps and King make sure the bags contain healthy and nutritious combinations. Popsicles are a popular choice for dessert.
Having a heart for the children in Macon County, one of the poorest counties in the state, has been the driving force behind the project. And seeing the children’s excitement when the food arrives is one of the most rewarding aspects, the volunteers say.
“I am not sure who gets more of a blessing from this — the children or us,” said King.
The ministry is funded through Calvary Baptist’s partnership with Second Harvest, along with donations from groups and individuals. Funding is also provided through gifts to the Golden Offering of Tennessee Missions.
Although the number of volunteers varies from day-to-day, there are always enough workers, and enough food, to keep the ministry running smoothly.
“I talked my husband into coming and doing this with me, and we have just fallen in love with it,” said Krystal Cowan, one of the ministry’s mainstays.
The ministry at Calvary Baptist serves as a reminder that hunger isn’t just a problem found exclusively in far-away places like Tanzania and India.
“Hunger is a continual problem in Tennessee, where we have a poverty rate at around 20 percent,” said Joe Sorah, compassion ministry specialist for the TBMB. “Our neighbors, family members, and friends may live with food deficiencies that require them to choose between buying food or medications. So, the work that is being done by Calvary Baptist is a great example of what we want to see happen across Tennessee.”
The lunch ministry at Calvary Baptist began three years ago with 30 lunches being distributed. That number has now swelled to 195, with the delivery vehicles (usually two vans) making 12 stops each day.
“We know where the kids are, and we know which doors to knock on,” said Beaver, who regularly joins the volunteer team during the deliveries.
At some of the stops, the children race out to meet the vans, similar to the reaction of an ice cream truck making its way through town.
“Seeing the kids jumping up and down when we drive up, that’s the best feeling,” said Cowan.
The idea behind the lunch ministry began to take shape after several Calvary Baptist members became concerned that many of the children in the community were not getting enough to eat during the summer months when school lunches were not provided.
The desire to meet that need, and spread the love of Jesus, prompted the church to take action.
“We don’t just give them a meal,” said Beaver. “We pray for them and we love on them.”
The volunteer team prepares and delivers the lunches on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays throughout the summer. On Wednesdays, Calvary Baptist provides a free supper at the church, and volunteers pick up the children to bring them to the church.
The ministry also includes an end-of-the-summer pool party, during which Calvary Baptist rents the city pool, and invites children in the area to come. The church gives away bathing suits and other swim-related items during the party. All the while, the church shares the message of Jesus.
“As our churches see a need and respond to it, it gives a pathway for the gospel to travel,” said Sorah.
Several of the families who have been reached through the lunch ministry are now attending Calvary Baptist on a regular basis, and some have joined the church. Roughly a dozen children who were reached by the lunch ministry attended VBS at Calvary this summer.
Susan Denise Newberry said she wasn’t very familiar with Calvary Baptist before the volunteers “started picking up the kids and taking them to church (on Wednesdays), and we started going with them,” she said.
Newberry has since joined the church. “Pastor Johnny and the people at Calvary are just wonderful. (This ministry) has changed our lives.”
Funding for the ministry, which also provides meals for several senior citizens in Macon County, has sprung up from various sources.
Lipps, who helped put the ministry in motion three years ago, recalled one instance when she and some of the volunteers were loading up their cars with food supplies in the parking lot at Sam’s and were approached by two ladies.
“They asked us what we were doing, and when we told them, one of them gave us some money (for our ministry),” Lipps said.
Those type of unexpected blessings have happened time and time again, Lipps said.
“For me, it’s an affirmation that we’re doing what God wants us to do,” she said. “We are seeing God working in the midst.”