Uniontown Members Feed a Hungry Community
Story and Photos by Celeste Ryan Blyden
“I was the first one here at 8:30,” said Tammy Kirkwood. “I’ve been coming here for two years now, and I have the best time. I wait for this day.”
Kirkwood was standing outside the Berean church in Uniontown, Pa., at the head of a long line of people that snaked around lawn bushes, through several cars and past a clothes giveaway table.
They didn’t mind that it was a cold, blustery Sunday because they knew that down the steps and inside the church’s basement-level fellowship hall, they’d enjoy a hot meal of mashed potatoes, vegetarian loaf, stuffing, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes and homemade pumpkin pie—brought by generous members of a local Bruderhof religious community.
Just after 1 p.m., their wait was over. “This is the 20th year of Operation Jesus Feed, and we’re so glad you’re here with us,” announced Patience Barnes to the hungry crowd. Barnes is head elder and community services director of the tiny Seventh-day Adventist congregation in one of the 10 poorest counties in the United States. She and her fellow church members raise money, get food donations, cook and serve the dinner every year for one reason: “We’re carrying on a program started by Pastor Carl Rogers who told us that we’re feeding Jesus when we feed all these people,” she says.
Rogers, assistant to president at the Allegheny West Conference, came to share a devotional thought and bless the food. Afterwards he recounted how it all began: “In 1990 when I was the youth, Pathfinder and Adventurer director, I encouraged the Pathfinders to do as Jesus said in Matthew 25 and feed the homeless and hungry. Dale Twomley, who was then with Worthington Foods, provided us with as many turkey and chicken rolls as we needed. At one point, we had 15 or 16 Pathfinder Clubs hosting Operation Jesus Feed across our conference. This is the only church still doing it, and they only have about 20 active members,” he adds, gesturing toward the fellowship hall where people sit at long tables covered with yellow tablecloths and fall decorations.
One of those active members is Monique Hooper, who serves as the church’s children’s Sabbath School teacher and youth leader. She’s been helping with the dinner since she moved to Uniontown 13 years ago. “There’s a lot of need in this community, she says. “Youth having babies, killing each other, depressed, and we’re working to address these problems. A lot of people ask for prayer, and we offer a monthly food bank and financial help. People who do not have come, and I’m excited to be able to serve them. Our small church feeds all these people,” she says looking around the packed room.
Caloda Miracle is one of the 135 people they’re feeding this year. She sits at a table near the entryway, where more people are waiting to eat. “Patience and all the ladies have treated me so wonderfully that I come back every year,” she says, adding, “This is my 14th year.”
For that she was given a gift because, on top of the meal, a box of food staples, a turkey, clothes and household items, attendees are given gifts.
For this they are most grateful, as is new pastor Christopher Thompson. “I’m so honored to be connected to a church that’s so committed to community service,” he said.