Youth food program expands as kids’ summer vacation arrives

Tuesday, June 12, 2018
The Rev. Mark Thompson of First Baptist Church talks to Doug Barr, a volunteer who wears many hats in the Clay County Youth Food Delivery Program, on Thursday at a food preparation meeting.
Frank Phillips photo

Many people are concerned about poverty in Clay County and, in particular, how it affects our kids.

It is a well-known fact, verified by the state, that many children in our county go hungry.

Pastor Mark Thompson, First Baptist Church, Brazil, recently shared information from the Indiana Department of Education.

“(The numbers on this report) reflect three schools in Brazil city limits which average a rate of 75 percent free and reduced lunch,” Thompson stated. “I don’t care where this ranks in comparison with any other town, city, providence, or state. There is a real problem. The good news is that there is a real God who cares and so does His Church.”

There are several groups, even school groups, that are working to meet this need with “backpack” lunch programs. Perhaps the largest and fastest growing is one sponsored by the Clay County YMCA called “Clay County Youth Food Delivery Program.” During the 2016-17 school year, the YMCA program fed an average of 291 children on weekends and during school breaks. Over Christmas break, 581 children were served, said Terry Barr, one of the program’s organizers.

The need has grown.

“We started the summer delivery program 2018 with almost 400 children signed up for delivery,” Thompson said. “We are now at day six of summer delivery and we are at 741 children on June 8, 2018 in Clay County, Indiana. We are struggling, but believe our community will help us feed the kids.”

For more than four years, this program, led by Terry Barr and Lisa Beyers, with a host of volunteers, has been delivering thousands of meals to children who might not have eaten otherwise.

“The first summer program was a started by Shelly Torbert.” Barr said. “When the kids weren’t coming to First Baptist Church, she decided to load the lunches up and take them to the kids.”

The meals are packed in First Baptist Church in Brazil.

Thompson said in a Thursday interview teachers noticed kids lost weight over Christmas break.

So, the group began an effort to deliver meals to kids over Christmas break two years ago with the help of large donations from Duke Energy. One year, French Funeral Home organized an effort to include filled Christmas stockings for each child. Susie French can often be seen helping pack meals for the program.

In the past year, a second group began packing and delivering meals as part of the YMCA program. The “southern” group is based in the Cory Community Church of the Nazarene.

There is a different dynamic to the Cory deliveries compared to Brazil, Thompson said.

When he went on a delivery route in Cory, nine stops took about 90 minutes to complete compared to many more stops in less time in Brazil where the houses are located much closer together.

But, the Cory program is growing like the Brazil program and he is convinced God will provide.

“What I have noticed is the way the Lord works,” Thompson said. “As the need grows, so does the supply. I think if anybody wonders, ‘Should I volunteer?’ The answer is yes. If you wonder, ‘Do they have too many people, do they really need me?’ The answer is they do not have too many people. Yes, they need you. In my line of work they call that the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”

One way people can help is to go to Page’s IGA Ribfest on Thursday, June 14th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Fully cooked ribs will be available for $10 for a full slab or $5 for a half slab and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Clay County Youth Food Delivery Program.

Thompson said not everyone agrees with what food delivery programs are doing.

“One criticism is, ‘You’re not changing anything; you’re just feeding hungry kids,” Thompson said. “That’s true. Those kids are hungry today.”

He suggests that other programs, especially, Cradles, which is also based in First Baptist Church’s building, are designed to break the generational cycle of poverty through education of parents and children, service to the whole family.

“If you’re more interested in bringing real change, systemic change, then you should put your money where your mouth is and support Cradles, because that’s what Cradles does,” Thompson said.

In the meantime, Christian people can’t use that as an excuse to not support the food delivery program.

“Jesus said, ‘You feed them.’ So we can’t kick back and say,”It’s not our responsibility to feed them because we’re just contributing to the cycle of poverty,” Thompson said. “What Jesus said was, ‘You feed them.’ In his mind, in his ministry, he was very intentional. If you’re a believer, a follower of Jesus, you’re not really off the hook, if you’re not doing what he commanded us to do.”

Nicole Fry, executive director of the Clay County YMCA, and Ryan Penrod, chief executive officer, were asked their views on how the program has developed over the past year.

Fry attributes the growth to the community.”

“I think it’s the way the community has taken ownership and supported the program through volunteerism, through sponsorship with monetary donations,” Fry said.

When asked about the rapid growth of the program, she said, “I think the Y is a neutral location where everybody can belong. It doesn’t matter what denomination your church is. Everybody fits in at the Y, so that helps this program to grow.”

Penrod has been impressed with the program.

“I think the Clay County Youth Food Delivery Program is a great blessing to our community,” Penrod said. “It has grown and expanded to include serving hundreds of children and includes all parts of Clay County. It brings a variety of community members, serving as volunteers, together in a common purpose of helping reduce the number of kids that go without food and/or that are hungry. Terry Barr and the First Baptist Church are great partners to work with and really make this program work. Without the volunteers and the donations the program receives, this program wouldn’t be possible. I can’t thank those that have been involved with the program enough for their efforts. I’m grateful that the Y can be associated with such a wonderful cause and outreach program.”

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