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Feeding kids and souls in Watertown

Every weekend over 500 children in the Watertown area receive nutritious food to take home, thanks to the Watertown People Against Childhood Hunger (PACH) program.  PACH started at First United Methodist Church in Watertown, South Dakota under the leadership of Rev. Sara Nelson.  

“There were a few of us who started talking.  We knew there were hungry kids who would go without over a weekend when school lunch was not available,” said Rev. Sara Nelson.

The group started reaching out to few schools and about 80 children in Watertown.  Donations of food and cash were sought from church members and the local HyVee grocery store.

In April, 2011, the group packed the first bags with food items and distributed to children.  The word got out about PACH and the requests to help more children came pouring in.

“When we started we were serving 80 children and now we are serving over 500,” said Nelson. “We have formed a board, obtained 501c status and have grown into a community service organization.”

Volunteers make the difference

PACH volunteers packing backpacksEvery Wednesday night bags are packed by volunteers in a rented location at the Watertown Mall. By 5:30 p.m., volunteer leaders show up each week to get things started.  Sue Luken and Tom Beadnell are faithful servants for PACH.

Photo: Volunteers pack hundreds of food backpack bags on a recent Wednesday evening in Watertown.

Sue coordinates all of the volunteers who come to pack.  “We have over 50 different groups that have volunteered to come and pack.  Each week it is a different group.  I get calls months in advanced from groups who want to help us out,” said Sue.

Sue also coordinates the food ordering and storage.  PACH purchases food and collects donations months in advance. There is a food storage area right next to the packing room.  “We are so fortunate to have a giving community. The mall rents this space to us at a very reasonable rate--$50 per month.  HyVee calls us and let us know when there are going to be specials on things like peanut butter, applesauce and other items that we can use.  We then store these items that we buy on sale,” described Sue.

Watertown First UMC collects one food item each month to donate to the PACH program.  “Not everyone can come and pack. But we have a lot of people in the church that like to help out.  So we designate one item a month which people can donate. This month is “Applesauce April,” said Pastor Sara.

Hunger does not end in the summer

Tom Beadnell pushing boxes of children's backpack packs.Hunger does not go away during the summer. Tom Beadnell felt the need to continue the program throughout the summer months.  So did the members of Watertown First UMC.  Photo: Tom Beadnell pushing boxes of food backpack bags on a recent Wednesday evening.

"A Place at the TABLE" provides weekend backpacks to children throughout the summer months.  Bags of food are assembled at First United Methodist Church in Watertown each week. Children and their families can come to the church and one other location and pick up the packs.  

“The need doesn’t stop at the end of the school year,” said Tom. “If you can do something you should.”

Growing in love of God and neighbor

The program does more than provide food.  It feeds the souls of many. Volunteers find themselves growing in their faith and love of God.

“If there is something we can do to help others we should do it,” said one volunteer. "That is what God has called us to do. We are blessed so we should help our neighbor.”

“I come here to pack but I walk away blessed, feeling like I am passing the love of God onto others,” said another volunteer. “It is one thing to say you love those in need but it is another thing to act on it.”

What started as one small group working at Watertown First UMC has exploded into a huge community effort to provide nutritious food items to children who are living everyday with food insecurity. Children who wonder where their next meal may or may not come from and who would prepare it.  

Today countless volunteers provide thousands of hours of service to distribute tons of food to children each week. The food is great but the love that goes with each pack is greater.

 

UMC

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