I am privileged to pastor The Gathering, a church in Parkersburg, West Virginia, (formerly Homeland Community Wesleyan Church), located along the West Virginia-Ohio border. I’ve only been serving there since the summer of 2019, but in that short time I’ve seen God do great works in both our church and the community.
We are a small church body, made up of only 60 at our southside campus and 40 at our northern campus. Forty thousand people call Parkersburg home, and both of our campuses are situated in poverty-stricken areas laden with addiction. In fact, many of the families we interact with are affected by poverty and addiction.
Much of our ministry centers around our strong children’s ministry or our food pantry. For years, we have provided Wednesday night dinners at our south campus and Thursday night dinners at our north one. We feed 35-40 kids at each meal. On Saturdays, we provide a free community meal at our north campus. We also have a summer feeding program for kids, where we provide food for them Monday through Friday. We have always had a food pantry at our north campus, which is available to the whole community, but it is mostly utilized by the children who come to our Thursday program and their families.
When the COVID-19 crisis emerged and people began being laid off and grocery stores experienced food shortages, our little food pantry had to grow very quickly to meet the needs of our community. And it’s the community that has stepped up to serve us with this seemingly massive need.
The donations for our current food ministry have come from many different sources. We received a gift from an anonymous donor. We received assistance from the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, an organization of local business owners who support community-oriented volunteers. Other Wesleyan churches in our area have contributed finances or food, as well as churches from other denominations. A local potato chip factory donated over 300 bags of chips and several restaurants have given us food items. We also get a lot of donations from friends on Facebook or people in the city who saw what we were doing, courtesy of a story that ran on our local news.
Even with all the positives, we ran into a snag. Our city mandated that food pantries operate strictly by curbside pickup, which is a problem for many who lack transportation. So, we did what we could to continue to meet food needs: we began boxing up groceries and delivering to doorsteps. The first week we delivered food to around 70 families who were already connected to our ministry. As the weeks went on, word started spreading and people began reaching out to us, asking us to take food to their elderly neighbors or grandparents. We now deliver around 180 boxes of groceries each week to those in need throughout Parkersburg.
The number of food delivery volunteers has increased, once again illustrating a community that cares. Delivery drivers load up boxes for the day and are given a list of addresses. Most drivers attend our church, but we also have four volunteers who contacted me via Facebook, wanting to help. They have shown up faithfully every day.
A church in Belpre, Ohio (located only about five minutes from us), delivers food to our Ohio contacts. That church supports us financially and we are working together to help clergy and lay members there start up its own food ministry.
This food outreach to those in our community has become a full-time ministry. We have a handful of people, including my husband and children, who assist in packing food boxes each day. Then we shop and restock for the next day. I must give credit to my husband, Brad, who serves as a food service director at a local college. He has been a huge help in organizing, budgeting, ordering and storing food.
The most incredible part of this ministry has been seeing how God provides every single day. It is truly a story of fishes and loaves. There are some days when we deliver over 50 boxes of food and the effort empties out our storage area. I have a moment of fear when I think, “What are we going to feed people tomorrow?”
Then random people arrive throughout the day with unexpected trucks full of food or a check for groceries. The Lord has not failed to provide. As the demand keeps growing, so does God’s provision for this ministry.
Rev. Melody Smith serves as pastor at The Gathering.