For more than 20 years, Alcoa-Maryville Church of God has witnessed the needs of the least of these and stepped up to render assistance.
Through its food ministry called Manna Outreach Ministries, the church feeds 150 families each week, which totals close to 500 people weekly, said Joshua Travers, the church’s youth pastor who also helps with the outreach program. Directors are Gary and Pam Stott. Some who receive the assistance come as individuals while others are there representing a family of seven.
The pantry has been providing nourishment for residents since the late 1990s, Travers said. The church receives food from Second Harvest Food Bank and also participates in food rescue efforts with restaurants and grocery stores.
“Rather than throwing food away, they donate it to us,” Travers explained. That includes fresh produce, dairy products, loaves of bread and even meat, he said. Anything in the deli section. “It’s lots of stuff that is still good for three or four more days.”
Manna Outreach Ministries is situated on the church’s property, which is located at 2615 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. The pantry is open to the public every Monday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The pastor is Paul Dyar.
Anyone living in Blount County can receive food once per month, Travers said. The only requirement is a photo ID that doesn’t have to be a driver’s license.
While the pantry has been going for more than 20 years, there has been a recent change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Travers said in the past, food recipients would come into the building to register and then receive food. For weeks now, that process has been changed to a drive-thru service.
Check-in is done as participants line up in their cars in the parking lot, Travers said. Each car is asked the number of family members and then given a coupon to hand to those loading the groceries. A small order will be enough food for 10 to 12 meals for a family of three or four, Travers said.
“Typically, our families will get some type of drink, like a gallon of milk or orange juice, and some type of meat if we have it,” he said. “We give away dozens of eggs, fresh produce, depending on what comes in, a few loaves of bread and frozen items. Everything changes but it is fairly consistent.”
According to the Stotts, who explained the process through a video on YouTube, they pick up donated food from grocery stores including Food City, Walmart and Kroger, sometimes twice a week. They also make weekly trips to Second Harvest to pick up food as well.
The ministry is run so that all monetary donations go toward providing food to the needy, Travers said. The church pays overhead expenses like utilities, vehicles and insurance so that when people make monetary contributions, it all goes directly to assist the families.
Money well spent
Because Second Harvest is able to provide food at much reduced costs and the rest comes from local retail stores, Travers said someone can sponsor a family for only $5 per month. That is groceries worth $100 for only a $5 sponsorship, he said. The monthly budget for the food program is $3,500.
Manna Outreach Ministries also has a blessing box on the premises where nonperishables are stocked for anyone to access 24 hours a day. Things like canned vegetables, dried beans, pasta and peanut butter are stocked and ready for the taking. Travers said there are homeless individuals who partake of the generosity.
Someone affiliated with the church or a friend of a member made the box and donated it, Travers said. It has been there for almost a year now and is stocked twice a week by a volunteer.
The program is operated with 30 dedicated volunteers who help stock the warehouse and distribute the food on a weekly basis.
“It has really become its own community,” Travers said of the volunteer corps. He said there are some who were once recipients of the food who are now coming back to serve others. Some have been doing so for as long as Travers has been at Alcoa-Maryville Church of God, which is more than four years.
Travers said they have definitely seen new people come for aid since the pandemic caused major job loss here and across the country. They have a base of what they call their “regulars” but gladly serve anyone in need, he said.
Thanks to a United Way grant, Manna Outreach Ministries has received additional funds to help during this time.
“We want to help as many people as possible,” Travers said. “We want to reach the people who maybe have never needed this before to let them know we are here.”