For the past few months, as many as 25 families have been receiving a box of food staples, a few out-of-the-ordinary items and recipe cards from Wichita New Covenant United Methodist Church.
They also get a question.
“What have you done to help someone else this month?” volunteer Nancy Reeves asks as the families wait for their food, which is transferred into a large recyclable cloth grocery bag.
The answers include raking leaves and shoveling snow for neighbors, helping with a fence and assisting a neighbor’s child with virtual school.
Reeves said some of the families initially thought the church wanted them to provide documentation of their good deeds, but she said it was more of an effort to “pay it forward.”
The storefront church, on the edge of Wichita’s Delano district, has been distributing food on the last Friday of each month since August.
“Even in the midst of the pandemic, we’re doing ministry and starting new things,” Reeves said.
Grants provide funding for the food staples for the 25 families, which include some church members, families from the nearby Franklin Elementary School, and those referred to the church.
But it’s the extras that make New Covenant’s distribution different.
Each month, a different recipe card is attached to the recyclable bags. For October, it was chicken enchiladas. The bag included canned chicken, tortillas, enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Funding for the extras have mostly come from two Wichita United Methodist Churches — Asbury and Aldersgate — but the enchiladas came from a single benefactor not connected to the congregations.
“An individual not affiliated with church, she and a bunch of her friends got together and got the extra food for the recipes,” Reeves said.
Asbury is donating turkeys for the November distribution, moved to the Friday before Thanksgiving, and Aldersgate is contributing money for hams in December, again before the holidays.
Michelle Grote, a member of St. Francis Catholic Church who was volunteering for the first time, said she liked the idea of the recipe cards and the additional food.
“This recipe is going to promote sitting down to dinner,” she said. “The kids can help make dinner, and they can sit down and have a meal together. I think that’s great. I’m impressed.”
“It was to make it useful and not just, ‘Here’s some free food,’” Reeves said of the recipes.
Families are also getting some spiritual nutrition thanks to an addition to the distribution.
Twenty-five children, representing 11 families, received a Vacation Bible School-type packet with craft materials, links to videos and songs, and daily snacks for each child.
Elisabeth Brandyberry, who serves in education at New Covenant, said the material will be coming from United Methodist churches in the Urban Core Network of Wichita, which will alternate each month.
With COVID-19 this year, “obviously we couldn’t do” VBS, Brandyberry said.
“Several of us worked together virtually and put together a packet of material and planned how that would look,” she said.
Three of the families requested materials in Spanish, and they were translated by volunteers.
Families can get something else when they pull into the alley between the church and its Life Support Center — free haircuts. That started in August when kids were going back to school, and hairdresser Amy Cochran, a member of New Covenant, volunteered to cut hair.
“I just wanted to do more, and this was something I could offer,” she said. “It just seemed like second nature to me.”
The distribution began after free twice-weekly meals at New Covenant — first a hot lunch, then later ham or turkey sandwiches and chips — proved a need in the community. The Thursday meal would include a small bag of staples to get people through the following days.
“We thought, what else can we do?” Reeves said. “This is something that’s been in the works for a while.”
October’s distribution featured an overabundance of volunteers, whose jobs included carrying the sacks to people’s vehicles and telling them about New Covenant and the services provided by its Life Support Center.
Initially, Reeves said, not many people volunteered. But a few phone calls found many helping hands.
“At first we didn’t have any, now we have more volunteers than we know what to do with,” she said. “The willingness to help is just wonderful.”
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.