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Church dedicated to fighting childhood hunger
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“The idea of so many children in our area not having enough to eat is unthinkable,” says pastor Daphne Johnson.

Were it not for the sacks that go home with students on weekends, many at Bellaire Elementary School in Clearwater would not have much, if anything, to eat until they return to school on Monday morning.

Most of the students at the school qualify for free or reduced lunches, but the school isn’t open on weekends. That’s where the Pack-A-Sack program for First United Methodist Church of Clearwater takes over.

“We have a room in the church that is set up with shelves of food we order from New Vista, a food service in Tampa that works with us to get decently priced food,” said Michelle Gates, who, with Susan Curtis, co-chairs the outreach.

“We also get milk through the United Methodist Cooperative Ministries. We have a group of packers and a group of deliverers. Packers meet every other Wednesday and pack 12 items and a piece of fresh fruit in each sack. We also pack the bags for the following week without the fruit and one of us puts it in later.”

The pack-a-sack storeroom at First UMC Clearwater has no lack of contributions and support. Courtesy Photo.

The sacks are delivered every week. They include a granola bar, cereal box, captain’s wafers, grilled cheese, a mixed fruit cup, apple juice, pretzels, a pudding, can of Vienna sausages, some peanut butter crackers and Slim Jims, a piece of fresh fruit and milk.

This ministry has been part of the church for more than a decade, and it is going strong. While the committee is now serving 90 youngsters, that number has climbed as high as 125.

The school guidance counselor determines who needs the food and relays that information to the ministry. The delivery folks either work singly or in a team of two, volunteering for one week a month to deliver to the school and pick up empty bins for the next week.

Fund-raising activities support the ministry and realtor Martha Thorn’s office provides the fresh fruit each week.

The nearby Church of Christ Science pitches in 36 sacks each month and Ascension Episcopal Church has underwritten the milk for the past two years.

“The rest of it is through fundraising that we do,” Gates said.

“The idea of so many children in our area not having enough to eat is unthinkable. So, our church felt this is one of the things we are being called to do in the process of transforming our community and our world. Children who have enough to eat can study and learn and make a difference in our world.”

It takes about $15,000 a year to run the program. The church also assists the school tutoring and mentoring, helping with the book fair and more.

The program has made those who volunteer come closer together. And that’s why, as Gates said, “We always celebrate another year of Pack-a-Sack.”

Yvette Hammett, freelance writer based in Valrico

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are engaging in ministry with the poor by encouraging churches to be in ministry with their communities in ways that are transformative.

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