"It feels good to give back. There is a definite need out there. People are working two and three jobs and not making ends meet. In the evenings, kids are at home while parents are at work. We can provide meals," said Brian Boyden, who coordinates the meals Sunnycrest United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, serves at Hayward Elementary School every third Monday of the month.
A ministry that started serving 30 meals to families on Monday evening is on pace to serve 10,000 meals this year.
"When the Nightwatch van pulls up at Hayward Elementary, there are 20-30 people in line, and the line doesn't slow down, "said Brian. "We serve 200 plus meals each week. We have really expanded the program. It is exciting. The word has gotten out there. We serve many meals to kids and try to cater our meals to the kids."
Hayward Elementary is a Title I school. Title I funds are available to schools with the highest poverty level, as determined by the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. That is why Sunnycrest United Methodist Church serves an evening meal, free of charge, at Hayward Elementary School.
Since 2007, United Methodist congregations in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have fed God's people through a mobile food truck called Nightwatch Canteen. Today, the Nightwatch Canteen serves free meals on Sunday evenings at two downtown locations, on Mondays next to Hayward Elementary School in northwest Sioux Falls, and on Tuesdays in northeast Sioux Falls.
Nightwatch has grown from the involvement of seven United Methodist churches as an informal organization to 12 multi-denominational churches and community organizations, a non-profit 501(c) organization.
Each week from 5:15-6:30 p.m., a church—Sunnycrest UMC, Hilltop UMC, First UMC, and First Lutheran purchase the food, prepare, deliver, and serve the meal. Another church is responsible for the fifth Monday when that happens.
Kid-friendly meals like grilled hamburgers, chicken tenders or nuggets with macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti are prepared and delivered. There are also juice boxes and snacks that accompany the meal.
"We try to serve quality food but keep the meal cost down to about $2.50. We have some people that take more than one meal home," said Brian. " A lady, who lives nearby, comes over every Monday and takes four meals. That's her meals for the week. She puts them in the fridge. You know a need exists, and you feel for those people."
Eight volunteers are needed to make the meal available. It takes three to four volunteers to prepare the dinner at the church and three to four volunteers to deliver and serve the meal.
"We have a pretty good team. We have some regular volunteers and others who try it now and then. I have one volunteer, an elderly lady living near the elementary school, who is always wiling to step in. I give her a call whenever I need someone. We are always working on building up the team," said Brain.
Brian got involved because he has a passion for giving back. He started getting involved at Sunnycrest UMC and felt a nudge from God to do more. He and his wife have always had a special spot in their hearts for kids and animals.
"Every year, during Christmas, we would donate a bunch of coats to the different schools. We would call and find out if the school needed any coats, hats, gloves, or anything like that. We provide them to those schools," said Brian. "Second Chance Animal Shelter was right out by our house. We donated quite a bit to there. We've always found ways to give back and do different things."
He met Steve Barringer, who was coordinating the meals at Hayward Elementary for Sunnycrest UMC, and Brian decided to volunteer.
"I had this like urge to help with this permanently. It was weird. Was the Lord speaking to me? I don't know. After volunteering, I just said to Steve, 'I kind of want to be out here every month doing anything.' He looked at me and said, 'I can tell you you're passionate about this and you enjoyed it. I'm getting burnt out.' It was just meant to be," said Brian.
The meal is served through all kinds of weather and the pandemic. Last month, it was sweltering, and there were limited food supplies at Feeding South Dakota, where food for the meals is often purchased. So, Sunnycrest decided to splurge and buy pizza. It was well received by both the volunteers and the guests.
"It really opens your eyes. When a young kid walks up in the middle of the winter without any socks and shoes on, no coat, he's getting a meal and walking home. It just melts your heart," said Brian. "You're providing a meal to 200 people who can't provide a meal for themselves. It's a pretty powerful thing."
Serving meals at Hayward Elementary School is just one way that Sunnycrest UMC makes disciples. "Discipleship is not about what happens at one event or what happens on Sunday. It is about what happens the rest of the week. So our desire here at Sunnycrest is focusing 90% of our energy on Monday through Saturday," said Rev. Charlie Moore, Sunnycrest UMC.
Sunnycrest is one of the hub sites for Imagine Day, September 30, 2023, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bring a team to Imagine Day with Rev. Dr. Michael Beck on September 30. You'll leave fired up to reach people through the Fresh Expressions movement and initial resources to help you do just that: a people map, listening tools, next steps for your church, and an invitation to group coaching sessions.