Backpack Ministry Alleviates Summer Scarcity, Powers Church-School Partnership
By Carl Stagner
Surveys and studies conducted over recent years tell a startling tale of the predicament far too many students face when school is not in session. During the schoolyear, children often depend on school lunches for sustenance; their daily needs are met through reduced and free lunch programs that persist only until classes dismiss for summer break. Even when school is in session, the cyclical weekend hiatus from studies, though anticipated by children and teens everywhere, becomes a burden for families barely making ends meet. Thankfully, congregations like Eastland Church of God in Lexington, Kentucky, are finding strategic ways to close the nutritional gap.
“Eastland has a vision of knowing Jesus more and making Jesus known,” Pastor Rob Kespelher explains. “We get to experience both parts of this vision through this act of service. Our church family grows in Christ as we embrace God’s call to serve. And we make Jesus known, as we show the community we care, by providing food and other resources. Our care is a reflection of Jesus’ care for us and them. We pray they see Jesus every time we serve.”
For Eastland Church of God, Jesus is the subject. Because Jesus is the subject, serving like Jesus served is a given. It’s part of who they are, and the results are remarkable.
“This partnership began about twelve years ago,” Pastor Rob says. “The church made some intentional efforts to reach out into the community and discovered this need with Liberty Elementary, which is across the street from the church. In more recent years, we also became aware of this same need with another school a short distance away, Martin Luther King Academy.”
“We offer this program year-round,” Rob continues. “The summers usually involve bulk pickups once every several weeks. During the school year, this food is intentionally provided to students each weekend. We realized that for some students, food can be scarce at home on the weekends. So, we try to give them a few things that will get them through those days until they can get back to school for the week.”
Practical, strategic, and authentically compassionate. That’s Eastland’s approach, and it’s opened doors for further partnership.
“The food has always been received very well,” Pastor Rob explains. “In fact, it has allowed us a lot of other opportunities to serve in both those schools. We have provided funding for special events and various needs that arise during the year. Examples might include clothing, such as coats, or funding an event designed to educate families on some basic life skills. We’ve also been able to provide gifts for teacher appreciation in May and we often provide some school supplies at the beginning of each school year in the fall.”
Most notably, Pastor Rob describes, is the essential role they play in the community from the perspective of the community. “Both schools know they can lean into us for help,” he states. “We have an open line of communication with both of them. In fact, we have a seat at the table at Liberty’s Resource Council that meets several times a year to address needs in their school community.”
A recent social media reminder to the congregation at Eastland Church of God solicited food donations sufficient to serve 50 children with a total of 300 items weekly. Granola bars, fruit cups, oatmeal packages, Pop Tarts, macaroni and cheese bowls, and other nonperishable items were offered as suggested supplies. While few in society are actively considering the plight of children who fall under the radar concerning hunger, Eastland Church of God is choosing to see what Jesus sees and love how he loves. Ultimately, therefore, they’re not concerned about notoriety or accolades; they’re too busy being the hands and feet of Christ.
“Both schools have expressed their appreciation to us over the years through words, cards and even meals honoring us,” Pastor Rob concludes. “No doubt we have blessed them. And no doubt we have been blessed as we serve. Serving always makes a difference in both the giver and the receiver. We’d like to think they would miss us if we weren’t here, [but] we are grateful for this opportunity to make a difference.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature image © Can Stock Photo / mflippo.