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Knollwood UMC brings hope to those in a food desert

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

Knollwoodheights

Each week members of Knollwood Heights UMC bring food donations for the food pantry ministry. Photos courtesy of Rev. Sharla McKaskell.

The Knollwood Townhouse complex in Rapid City, South Dakota, is part of what is known as a food desert. A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. Knollwood Heights United Methodist Church, located a few blocks away, is bringing hope to the residents through a food pantry.

The food pantry, which is located at the housing complex, began as an effort of another church, Bethel Assembly of God, in the fall of 2018. The congregation approached the leadership of Knollwood Heights UMC about helping establish the food pantry in this low-income housing complex.

"We prayed about our participation in this project," says Pastor Sharla McCaskell, who serves at Knollwood Heights UMC. "We prayed that we could find volunteers to be part of the project and also bring food items to those that needed them."

The food pantry started with a grant from the South Dakota Community Foundation. The grant paid for supplies to start-up. The two churches now provide funds and food items to equip the pantry. Residents at the townhouses also provide food items.

One cool part is the 'share shelves,'" says Pastor Sharla. "Residents bring food that they don't want or need to share with others. This is very humbling to witness. The people in the townhouses are very generous. One week I watched as a woman brought two frozen chickens to share because she just knew someone else would need them more than her."

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The shelves of food at food pantry at the Knollwood Heights housing complex. Photos courtesy of Rev. Sharla McCaskell.

The food pantry, which is meant to supplement not be the main food source, is open three days a week. Bethel Assembly of God is responsible for opening the pantry twice during the week. Knollwood Heights UMC opens the pantry on Sunday each week from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

Stocking the food pantry is an ongoing effort. Members at Knollwood Heights bring food items to church each Sunday and volunteers bring them over to the pantry. Funds are also collected to purchase food from Feeding South Dakota. A Breakthrough Ministry Grant from the Dakotas Conference provides funding for the project.

"Two times a month, we purchase food from Feeding South Dakota to stock the pantry. We pay $.18 per pound for the food. It is amazing how much food we can purchase for $150 a month—the amount we try to raise monthly," describes McCaskell. "The funding we received from the Dakotas Conference has really helped." 

This summer, the congregation held a fundraising event for the food pantry at one of the congregant's home. Attendees at "Pie in the Pines at Persons for the Pantry" enjoyed fellowship, of course, homemade pie, learned about food insecurity. All for the price of donated food items or a cash offering. 

World Communion Sunday members of the congregation brought bread items to church to help stock the food pantry. All kinds of bread products loaves of bread, biscuits, tortillas, filled several boxes. 

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Eileen Persons, poses for a photo among the many pies offered at "Pie in the Pines at Persons for the Pantry."

The food pantry is about building relationships with those that might not know Jesus. Knollwood Heights UMC volunteers know those that visit the food pantry by name. Volunteers are a Christian presence for them. 

"We are building relationships and getting to know people every week. It is powerful to get to know the names," says Pastor Sharla. "It is a great outreach, and a stepping-stone for discipleship by inviting people to events, just being present with each other. 

Children that are frequent visitors to the pantry. So Knollwood Heights UMC is planning a Trunk or Treat event and inviting the community from Knollwood Townhouses.

The food pantry project has become a ministry for the congregation. The hope is to build a line item into the parish budget to continue the ministry.

"It is fulfilling to find a place that makes a difference to everyone involved. We continue to pray about this ministry," says McCaskell. "As time goes along, our prayer has changed to how we can be in ministry through the pantry."

Breakthrough Ministry Grants are awarded every quarter. The next application deadline is October 31. Apply here.

UMC

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