Faith & Family: Prayer served as main course at food pantry
NATCHEZ — A box of food is always served up with a side of prayer at the Natchez First Assembly of God Food Pantry.
A moment of prayer led by Eric Smith started Tuesday’s effort.
Smith, a pastor, is one of many volunteers who routinely help on Tuesdays at the church, where anyone meeting low-income standards can receive a box of food and a prayer.
Once registered in the program, clients can pick up food at the location once a month.
During that time, church volunteers speak with each person who stops by in an effort to spark a spiritual connection they say will provide fulfillment longer than a box of food.
“I could hand somebody a box (of food) and not know them from Adam, but when you get on this spiritual level and say, ‘God, help these people out,’ it is a connection being made,” Smith said. “What we’re doing by helping people out is showing them Jesus.”
Prayer and connection are constant themes throughout the operation and the root of the volunteer effort.
Senior Pastor Scott Green said the food pantry doesn’t work if prayer is not central to the ministry.
He said by meeting the needs of the people first — in this case, through food donations — it makes them more open to receiving Jesus in their hearts.
“We show love,” Green said. “Showing love is the second greatest commandment. That is what we want to do: show love to people by meeting their needs. We want to include the ministry part of it.”
Green said it was during a recent moment of personal prayer he felt compelled to open a room next to the food pantry line where clients can take a break for more focused prayer with a church volunteer by their side.
“Ever since we did it, it seems whenever we have people in there for prayer, they have really enjoyed it,” Green said. “They come back and tell us some of their prayers are being answered and how God is helping them find jobs.”
The food pantry is stocked through donations and bulk purchases from the Mississippi Food Network.
Pantry co-organizer Tom McGehee said the effort, which is in its 12th year, achieves success when clients who come back each month say the issue they prayed about at First Assembly has been resolved.
“Now you have been touched, now you are going in the right direction, that is when we have done our best,” McGehee said. “We enjoy praying for people, and we like for them to come in and ask for it.”
McGehee said the dedicated volunteers from Natchez First Assembly of God work throughout the week to make each Tuesday an opportunity to hand out food and connect spiritually with clients.
McGehee said Faith Streach helps him check people in through the window and also fills out boxes.
Suzanne Green helps carry trash outside and prays with the clients. David Baity stocks shelves and sets up boxes. McGehee said many others contribute daily for those few minutes of connection.
“It has to be a tight crew that comes every week,” McGehee said. “It takes people. We really get crossed up sideways when only a few can show up in the week and all we can do is serve them food. It’s when we can’t stop and talk to them, that it hurts.”