A $1,000 Matthew 25 Grant from American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) helped First Baptist Church in Sharon, Pa., purchase food this past year for an after-school program the congregation has run since 1991.
“Kids hit the snack table as soon as they come in the door from school, and we provide lots of hot chocolate for them during cold, snowy afternoons,” explains the Rev. Cindy Swogger, First Baptist Church’s pastor. “They enjoy Bible study, games, music, crafts, computers, homework help and chapel. I cook supper for the kids three days a week. It is so gratifying. When we say they can get seconds, look out because they get pretty excited. It is wonderful to feed children who appreciate a home-cooked meal. I just love our kids!” Pastor Cindy explains the initiative welcomes 45-80 children each day depending on after school sports activities, weather and darkness (children walk to the program and darkness impedes attendance some in mid-winter). Numbers go up for special events at the church.
In addition to furnishing food, Pastor Cindy says some of the funds were used to pay for a visit to a Fun Center for skating, laser tag and play zone just before Christmas.
First Baptist Church is a small downtown church blessed to have children, youth and families in the neighborhood, Pastor Cindy explains. Once a center for heavy industry, coal mining and later iron and steel-making, Sharon now has a more diversified economy of light industry, education, health care and social services. Legend has it that the town, located in Mercer County 75 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh, received its name from a Bible-reading early settler who likened the locale to the Plain of Sharon in Israel.
“We work hard to establish relationships with folks all around us and being a safe haven for kids and affording a helping hand to families during the work day,” the pastor says.
“We always want to feed our kids both spiritually and physically,” Pastor Cindy continues. “Food is an important piece. It provides for physical needs and times of fellowship around the table. We want to surround the children with love and help them put handles on their faith. We want to provide a place where they can learn, love and grow, and be comfortable and have fun. They love coming to church, and church is what they call it no matter what day of the week they are here.”
“A woman from the community brought us a bunch of princess costumes for the children, and they just loved the chance to dress up,” Pastor Cindy says. “they were role-playing and so cute. That’s just an example of having fun with their friends in the free time portion of the program.”
Founded in 1804, First Church is the oldest in the valley, Pastor Cindy says. Membership is about 150. “It takes a lot of time for us to attract new members,” she explains. “We get young families, but many of these folks have not had much church background, and it takes patience. We usually have children attending long before the parents become involved. Our congregation has really embraced the neighborhood. We lack participants who have much to give financially as quite a few of our neighbors are unemployed or underemployed. However, our folks do anything they can to help. They cook and lead Moms groups. They operate a free clothing closet. They volunteer for the program.”
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 meet the needs of “housing, feeding, education and health with regard to the less fortunate.” The application process for a Matthew 25 Grant 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