The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 23, 2013

Keeping cupboard stocked

Volunteers distribute food to those in need

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Two weeks out of every month, hundreds of people flock to Bethany United Methodist Church, at the corner of 10th and Maple.

They’re not coming for Sunday services — the small church draws in a Sunday attendance of about 40 people. Nor are they coming to the church for a large Wednesday evening outreach program.

It’s a different kind of ministry that draws in dozens of volunteers and about 200 families the third and fourth Tuesday every month — a ministry to feed those in need.

Volunteers from Bethany and other local Methodist congregations operate Shepherd’s Cupboard out of the Bethany United basement, handing out more than 800 bags of groceries every month to the elderly, disabled and destitute.

The food pantry was started 13 years ago by then-pastor’s wife Tara Foos and a small number of church volunteers. With a small collection of donated and purchased food, the women of Bethany United Methodist began providing food weekly to about 12 people.

The pantry has grown steadily throughout the years and now provides food to more than 200 households twice a month, making it one of the largest food banks in western Oklahoma.

Ed Neighbors has overseen the pantry’s growth and service for most of the last 13 years, and at more than 80 years old still is a steadfast volunteer, along with his wife, Joan.

The couple met on a missions trip to Mexico 17 years ago, and found at Bethany United Methodist Church the opportunity to carry on their mission work closer to home.

Ed said the work at Shepherd’s Cupboard has given them “something to do” in their retirement years, and kept them active.

Joan said the volunteer work, helping others in the community, “is just something that really appeals to me.”

Their passion for helping others helped grow the Shepherd’s Cupboard mission over the years, drawing in support from other congregations, local businesses and individuals.

Ed said there’s been tough times, finding the money and volunteers to supply the growing food pantry, but “God has always provided.”

“When all your help and financing is voluntary, there are times when you feel you can’t continue, but something or someone always shows up,” he said. “I can’t help but feel it is a God thing. We get donations from various clubs and organizations, as well as other churches. Somehow, things always work out.”

One the sources of help that keeps things “working out” has been Willow View United Methodist Church.

The congregation at Willow View has a set schedule for donating its time, and money, to support Shepherd’s Cupboard.

The Rev. Lesly Broadbent, pastor at Willow View United Methodist Church, said one Sunday school class each month, about 15-20 people, goes to Shepherd’s Cupboard to help bag groceries. Volunteers from Willow View also help dispense the food and unload the Regional Food Bank shipment once per month.

“We offer a lot of assistance when it comes to volunteers, but we also offer some financial assistance as well,” Broadbent said.

He said about half of the communion offering taken up each month at Willow View goes to support the Shepherd’s Cupboard ministry.

“Those are all offerings that are above and beyond what they’re giving to support the ministries at our church,” Broadbent said.

Broadbent said Shepherd’s Cupboard has become an important ministry for Willow View because it has given the congregation a direct way in which to fulfill God’s mission in the community.

“The square mile in which our church is located is the wealthiest square mile in the city, and we know we don’t live among the poor, but our heart is with the poor,” Broadbent said. “We need to go to them, and do all we can do to help them experience God’s love and grace, the way we’ve been able to experience God’s love and grace.”

Broadbent said helping Shepherd’s Cupboard has been at least as beneficial to Willow View as it has been to Bethany and the food pantry patrons.

“It’s been very good for our church,” Broadbent said. “We hope that Bethany and the clients at the food pantry have been just as blessed as we have been.”

Kim Giles, pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church, said she’s overwhelmed each month by the support of volunteers and donors.

“It is an awesome ministry,” Giles said of Shepherd’s Cupboard. “It’s kind of one of those things you have to witness to appreciate what goes on.”

Giles said the work of feeding 250 families in one morning would not be possible without the help of volunteers from the churches and concerned individuals, some of whom drive in from as far away as Jet.

“For the amount of work that goes on, it’s just amazing,” Giles said. “It’s amazing to me that all of these different churches are working together to make this happen. It shows the unity in the body of Christ.”

While dedicated volunteers keep the food pantry running smoothly, the expense of  supplying food for its patrons has grown significantly in recent years.

Mike Phelan, current director for Shepherd’s Cupboard, said the pantry spent more than $24,000 on groceries last year. In the last eight years the pantry has spent $210,000 to purchase more than 3 million pounds of food in need — all funded by local donations.

Phelan said costs are going up, both for the groceries and for freight to deliver the food to Enid. Demand for the pantry services also is up, further straining the pantry’s budget.

Phelan said Shepherd’s Cupboard is more in need of monetary donations than it has been in the past.

He said he and the pantry directors appreciate donations of food, but with the pantry’s purchasing power through Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, “monetary donations go a lot further.”

“We always appreciate it when people bring us groceries,” Phelan said. “But, with the money they spend to buy four cans of vegetables and bring them to us, we could buy a whole case of vegetables through the Regional Food Bank.”

Phelan said the food bank currently requires $1,800 to $2,000 in donations per month, just to supply the food that’s distributed to those in need.

Volunteers also are needed. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to Shepherd’s Cupboard can contact Bethany United Methodist Church at 237-6611 or Phelan at (580) 540-6416.

Donations may be made to Shepherd’s Cupboard, in care of Bethany United Methodist Church, 931 E. Maple, Enid OK 73701.