“In the year 2000 God laid on my heart the idea of starting an outreach to the congregation’s immediate community,” explains Cheryl Roth, a First Baptist Church parishioner. “I prayed about it and spoke to a friend of mine. God provided!
“In the beginning we served soup, sandwiches, fruit and a drink on the street to about 60-80 people,” Roth recalls. “People basically had to sit on the curb or a sidewalk to eat. We used a pickup truck to transport tables on which we served the food, plus a canopy we set up in the event of rain. About two-and-a-half years into the venture we petitioned the church to begin serving inside the building so folks could eat at a table. We have been serving in the social hall ever since.”
The grant money has allowed the church to purchase eggs, cheese, sausage and meats for added protein for the weekly meals. “We have also used the funds to buy sleeping bags and blankets,” Roth says. “Each winter we give guests gift bags with hats, socks, mittens and personal items such as toothpaste, hand sanitizer, shampoo and toothbrushes.” Roth explains the church has also used the grant money to purchase toilet paper for guests. “For people whose lives are marginalized something essential like toilet paper can prove to be quite expensive.”
Roth explains that over so many years some of the participants have become friends. “One little girl and her mother have been coming for more than 15 years,” Roth says. “They started on the street as they had a tough time making ends meet. Now they come for the fellowship. Some of us have been to the girl’s birthday celebrations, special school events and provided transportation to summer camps. The girl often helps us serve nowadays.”
“Other folks come to us because they are on the street for a number of reasons or a combination of them,” Roth notes. “Some have lost jobs, got into drugs or alcohol, been involved in domestic violence or have medical or mental health issues. Some of our visitors can’t afford to both pay rent and eat too, or they find it difficult to live on what they make or receive each week. One Vietnam veteran who recently died told us he was finding it difficult to buy enough food on a $35-a-week budget. We also have folks who simply come to connect with us or hear a message. It has become their church.”
Several people who started as “guests” of Friday Night Outreach have become a regular part of the serving team. “They stay and help stack chairs, clean tables without being asked,” Roth says. “Guests become an extended family to us. They know we care about them, and out kitchen crew is often told our church has the best meal in town!”
The Matthew 25 Grant initiative, sponsored by ABCUSA and the Board of General Ministries, is funded by a generous, anonymous donor whose goal is to help meet the needs of “housing, feeding, education and health with regard to the less fortunate.”
The Matthew 25 Grant process is structured to help small ministries with limited staff time. For more information on the grant and application process visit: www.abc-usa.org/matthew25/.