By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SPRINGFIELD — The reality of people going hungry is not confined just to larger cities.
In fact, it may even be worse in rural counties and communities, said Pastor Steve Freeman of Grace Baptist Church in Springfield.
There’s not as much benevolent aid available in the non-metropolitan counties, Freeman observed.
Earlier this year the church adopted a “backpack project” in which they filled backpacks with food for children to take home with them on the weekends. “We knew some children would have little to eat without those backpacks,” he said.
Realizing that children would need food during the summer as well, Freeman and the church came up with “Petie’s Pantry,” a free farmer’s market which is available to anyone in the community on Sunday afternoons from 4-6 p.m.
The market is named after Mary Margaret “Petie” Porter, a longtime member of Grace Baptist who died in 2010. Until her death when she was 83 years old, she was known for her gardening, Freeman recalled.
“She would have loved to have seen the work of gardening turned into ministry,” he said.
The church began providing the farmer’s market in early June and will continue through the end of August, Freeman said.
Since it began the church has served about 60 families each week, he noted. And, about seven people who have gone through the market have come back to attend church, Freeman said.
The free market was advertised in the community by a billboard and through flyers sent home to parents of elementary school children at the end of school.
All the produce given was either grown or bought by members of Grace for Petie’s Pantry, Freeman added.
In addition, about 30 volunteers have helped staff the farmer’s market which is directed by church member Bob Morgan.
Morgan, who grew up on a farm and farmed at one time, is now retired and lives in a condo.
Because of his background, he was more than willing to accept Freeman’s invitation to lead the new ministry at the church.
“It’s been a blessing to me to be a blessing to these people,” Morgan said.
He admitted he was surprised at first by the number of people who needed the fresh produce. He now sees the farmer’s market as one of the “best ministries” the church provides.
Both Morgan and Freeman see the ministry as an extension of the ministry modeled by Jesus Christ.
“He has called us to meet physical needs in order to meet spiritual needs,” Freeman said.
Terri Shrum and her husband, Chester, are two of the members who regularly bring produce they grow to the church each week.
She is hopeful that the fresh produce can be used as a tool to reach someone who will eventually come to church and be saved.
“The main reason we do this is so someone may be introduced to Christ,” she said.
Kelly Whitaker, a resident of Springfield, is grateful for the church’s farmer’s market.
“It really helps our family and saves us a lot of money,” she said.
Freeman estimated that about 60 percent of the church’s members have been involved with the ministry in one way or another.
He has been pleased with the ministry and expects it to continue again next year. “This has been an encouraging ministry for our people,” Freeman said.
He is hopeful other churches will consider starting similar ministries.
“If every church could think of doing a ministry like this we could eradicate hunger,” he observed.
The farmer’s market is an inexpensive way to provide food because it basically requires the cost of seed and time. “The Lord does the producing,” he noted. “We just help with the harvest.”