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Feeding the Dakotas: Watertown First UMC distributes 1,000+ boxes of food

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communication, Dakotas UMC

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Vehicles line up to receive boxes of food in Watertown. Photos courtesy of Watertown First UMC.

“There was a time in my life when I could have used a food giveaway. Today, I am living a life full of blessings. So now I want to give a helping hand. God is good. It is a blessing to help others and bring a smile to their face,” says Roxie Schulz, a coordinator Feeding South Dakota food giveaways through First United Methodist Church in Watertown, South Dakota.

Recently, Schulz and volunteers distributed food to 1034 families in 35 communities across nine counties. Schulz and her husband, Robert, assisted as cars pulled into the National Guard parking lot . Everyone received boxes with 30 pounds of food.

“This food giveaway was unique as a semi-full of boxes came to us from the USDA warehouse in Des Moines, Iowa,” says Schulz. “We had to distribute all of the food in one day. Each box contained three pounds of potatoes and apples, chicken, cottage cheese, sliced cheese, yogurt, and a gallon of milk. That is a lot of food.”

Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed over 50 million food boxes supporting American farmers and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States Department of Agriculture program partners with Feeding South Dakota to connect communities who are reaching out to those that are hungry.  

Schulz and the First UMC members in Watertown were notified that they would be able to receive two shipments from the USDA warehouse in Iowa. One in March and one in April. 

“The protein, fresh fruit, and milk are wonderful. It is what families need,” said Schulz. “The shipment only comes by the truckload, so we needed to reach out to other communities to come and pick up boxes for families and distribute them back to local communities.”

After receiving information about the USDA shipment arriving in Watertown, Rev. Mark Tracy, who serves the United Methodist Church in Clark, South Dakota, organized a food giveaway in Clark. Clark UMC’s and the Assembly of God youth group led the charge to distribute 150 boxes of food and 150 gallons of milk.

Clark Youth

Youth at Clark, South Dakota are ready to distribute 150 boxes of food.

Food giveaways and the partnership with Feeding South Dakota are not new to Watertown First UMC. For the past years, the congregation has been feeding the hungry in the community. 

“Feeding South Dakota was looking to expand and reach out to the Watertown community. They connected with our pastor at that time, Rev. Sarah Nelson,” said Schulz. “Pastor Sarah asked me to help, and I said yes. So, we purchased food from Feeding South Dakota. We set up some tables in the parking lot across from the church and held our first giveaway. People came and selected the items they wanted.”

The congregation has to hold four-six food distributions each year. Pearl Geffre, a member of First UMC and is the office manager, has maintained the statistics for each distribution.

“We have been doing this since 2016 and serving about 350-400 families at each food giveaway,” said Geffre. “The recent one, and the upcoming one on April 21, we reach more than 1,000 households.”

Geffre helps with each distribution. She prepares the posters announcing when and where the distribution will take place and greets people as they enter. 

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Volunteers load boxes in vehicles.

“It is really neat to help the people. Since COVID started, people like to visit with you, and it feels good to connect with them,” Pearl said. “It is fulfilling to me. I think it is a great cause. My heart goes out to them, especially the elderly that are struggling.”

Sue Togel is a Watertown First UMC member who has volunteered with the Feeding South Dakota distribution and served on the organizing committee. She connects the community to the effort. Togel creates announcements and distributes them on several different community pages on Facebook. 

“It is a system that works well. You see the hand of God at work. It is neat to connect with people and hear their stories. One woman told me that she had been out of work for the past year. How do you get by without a job for a year? Another person had just lost their husband,” said Togel. “Unless you are in that situation, you do not realize how bad things can get. We are doing what God has called us to do—be the hands and feet of Jesus.” 

COVID-19 has created a need for more support to feed those who are struggling. The loss of jobs, family income earners due to death or ill-health has pivoted families who were able to provide for their families into a world of food insecurity. 

Besides food, people need a connection. Driving into a parking lot and being greeted by someone who will listen to their story is an act of compassion. 

“COVID has increased the need that people have for food and connection,” said Schulz. “Our community and congregation want to give back. They want to show the love of Jesus to others.”

The 2021 Miracle Offering: Feeding the Dakotas is a hope-bringing, spirit-fueled activity that will have a lasting impact on thousands of hungry people across the Dakotas Conference.

 Our goal for the 2021 Miracle Offering is $75,000 to be shared with the Great Plains Food Bank in North Dakota, Feeding South Dakota, and grants to local hunger ministries.  How will you and your congregation respond? Access resources here. 

UMC

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