New Horizons United Methodist Church sits at the corner of El Chaparral Avenue and Highway WW and is at the entry point into the El Chaparral subdivision in Columbia, MO. Church members have long been concerned about the children and youth in the development as nearly 60% of the children at nearby Cedar Ridge Elementary School are on the free or reduced lunch plan. This year the church partnered with the Summer Food Service Program which provided the perfect opportunity to help fill empty tummies and to begin to connect with these important young people.
El Chaparral subdivision includes some 425 homes and duplexes. Children and youth can be seen at nearly any time of day during the summer walking to and from Casey’s convenience store, the only place in the neighborhood that sells food. Because the development is outside the city limits, there is no public transportation system for families to access healthy food or to reach services provided for children and youth if they do not have a car. There are no services provided in the local community.
About 55 people are regularly in attendance at New Horizons United Methodist Church during worship each Sunday. The congregation consists of a mix of family types but nearly half of those who attend church regularly are retired.
In researching services for communities such as ours, Radical Hospitality Team members learned about the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program and the local sponsor, the Central and Northeast Missouri Food Bank. These agencies work cooperatively to provide free food for approved sites. With the blessing of the Church Council and the expressed willingness of church members to serve, the Radical Hospitality Team set up the program for four weeks after summer school when children would no longer have access to a healthy lunch. In addition to feeding hungry children, goals were to provide fun activities in a safe and friendly atmosphere and to develop a relationship with both children and adults in the community.
Children were invited to come each day from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. but they soon appeared at our doors at around 11:00. Daily participation for the four-week program ranged from 25 to 64 children. Nine hundred and ninety-one meals were served to the children, their accompanying care givers and those assisting with the program.
In addition to lunch, the children were actively engaged in games, crafts and a story time but the lot for playing football and the outdoor basketball hoops were popular, even on the hottest days. Special events were scheduled with a speaker from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Girl Scouts of Missouri Heartland who provided craft activities. In addition, staff from the nearby Boone County Fire Protection District came with the fire truck to provide a presentation and a most welcome spray of cool water.
During the four-week program, a total of 46 youth and adults provided service, supervision and friendship for a weekly average of 212 hours of service. Of those, 10 were from the local community including a stay at home mom, the neighborhood association president and boy scouts who regularly attend Scout meetings at the church. Several children and adults who came as participants and to serve have been in attendance at church since the program ended. For the 34 persons from the church who served, it was both a tremendous undertaking and tremendously rewarding.
It has been said that the difference between a “servant” and a “volunteer” is that volunteers may agree to help with a project but then when another opportunity comes up, they may excuse themselves. Servants are committed to the project and will come regardless of other opportunities, even sometimes when due to health issues, they should really stay home. Participants at the New Horizons Summer Food Service Program were servants in every sense of the word…serving Christ to make a difference in the world.