Feeding My Sheep: A Labor of Love
In John 21:17, Jesus admonishes his disciples to “feed my sheep.” Margaret Reed, former Community Service Director, has been feeding the Lord’s sheep for longer than she can remember.
According to Sister Reed, more than 2,000 people from the community are fed from the Southeast pantry every year. That is an amazing number, but the Lord has blessed this ministry to continue to grow and serve. It has an amazing history.
Community Service began in the late 1970s shortly after Southeast was established. The first leaders were Verdais Johnston and Rachel Sales. According to Sister Reed, Verdais Johnston taught me everything I know about Community Service.
There wasn’t a food pantry in the very beginning. In fact, the mission began as a clothing outreach. We would place clothing on tables in the parking lot and serve sandwiches. People came needing help and we would ask them what they needed. We would go to the congregation and they would help. Some people bought coats. I remember Bette Robinson even bought Christmas presents, said Sister Reed. (Right)
Later the mission evolved and became mobile. Once a month, Community Service would go downtown to feed the homeless. On Thursday nights, Sister Reed, Mattie Parham, Judith Denton and sometimes others would cook huge pots of spaghetti or chili and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On Sabbath evening, Community Service volunteers would form a caravan and transport the food down to 18th & Superior. They literally stood on the cold streets and fed the homeless until the food ran out.
According to Sister Reed, word of mouth spread so quickly, that within 20 minutes of their arrival, men were lining up on 18th street people were coming from everywhere. We would even feed the people laying on the grates. Many people would sacrifice and buy blankets to give out to provide additional warmth for those men laying on grates.
In the summer time the volunteers served hot dogs and baked beans and lemonade. At Christmas time they served turkey and dressing, brownies and candy canes. There was always something special about the ministry. But there was more change in store.
At some point, the ministry moved from the street to the men's shelter at 2100 Lakeside. This time the ministry was able to provide more spiritual food with the physical food. A program of singing and encouragement was created. Sister Reed noted that, We brought hope and food. She added, Elder Gilleylen would have his table filled with books and bibles and everything they could take...and of course there was his song, This Little Light of Mine. Sister LaJuan Marshall would lead the singing and Elder Gilleylen would read scriptures and pass out tracts. At Southeast, LaJuan was also the enforcer. She would go around collecting money from members to buy badly needed hats and scarves for the homeless. She was a true Christian soldier.
According to Judy Denton, It has been a real ministry. I will never forget the time Gary King, Sr., took us to the lake after feeding the homeless one evening to watch the sunset. I remember meeting young people and telling them about Jesus. And now the ministry has come full circle. It is back at Southeast and every third Sunday there is a food giveaway to feed families and individuals. Sister Reed added that Southeast is a loving church, a giving church. We are always grateful for the canned goods and non-perishable items that the congregation provides to the pantry. As the Lord’s ambassadors on earth, Christians are all members of Community Service.
-Cecily anitah Bryant and Judith Denton