From God’s Bounty: Food Pantry Pays it Forward

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes, Loving and Serving

By Kim Ousley

Recently the state pastor for Indiana Ministries visited the Church of God in Sheridan, Indiana. In a social media post, Jeff Matas enthusiastically described the congregation’s vital outreach ministry, the Open Arms Food Pantry. A closer look at Sheridan Church of God and their effective work in the community reveals a people eager to share with others blessings from the bounty God has supplied.

He said there was Perrier, Starbucks double-shot energy drinks, the best Cheetos flavors, freshly made salads, Tate’s cookies, Cape Cod Chips, and so much more. The pantry is open every Tuesday for a couple of hours for locals in need to come in and “shop” for the groceries they need to feed their families and themselves.

Shop? Yes, in part. Pastor George Cooper said the pantry “is set up like a grocery store, with actual aisles, so people can pick out what they like or something they can eat due to maybe a limited diet or food allergy. This is not your average ‘low-level’ food, but high-quality food that comes from various locations in the area.”

His wife Deborah is in charge of the food pantry, which is held inside the church gymnasium. She says there was a couple that started the ministry about eight years ago. The wife worked in administration and ran it like a “well-oiled machine.” Then COVID hit. The couple left, leaving Deborah in charge.

She said that a lady named Nancy Chance, who runs the Good Samaritan Network in Noblesville, came up with the idea to allow people to come in and shop the rows for themselves, instead of just handing a bag of food to each family. “This way, they get to decide what are the best options for their specific needs.”

Fresh food served at Open Arms.

Where does all the food come from? Cooper said he goes to Kroger on a Tuesday morning with a truck and gets pallets of food that would be considered over-buys at the store. That refers to the items that they didn’t sell because too much was ordered.

“We also have a policeman from the Noblesville area who picks up food from places like Second Harvest Food bank, Big Lots, and other places,” she explained. “Since they are not ZIP-code specific, they get several people all the way from Madison County and other surrounding towns.

“I think the idea of having it set up like a grocery store allows people to keep their dignity,” said Cooper.

He shared how amazing it is to see folks with grocery carts completely full, pushing them out to their cars. He said some people will complain about that, but he decided not to be the food police. “We freely received; we must freely give.”

Once a month, they head to another part of Indianapolis to the Midwest Food Bank warehouse. They are able to get lots of free and fresh vegetables and fruits to also put in the pantry. Sheridan has become a food desert once IGA closed; the closest thing to a grocery store is Dollar General, and prices are higher at the smaller buildings like them. This makes the Open Arms Food Pantry essential to its community.

One time, a semi-truck full of ice cream suffered a vehicular accident, and since the carrier couldn’t sell the product, a friend that cleans up after wrecks brought it all to the food pantry. Other folks bring produce from their gardens. One guy provides pet food to those who have pets but cannot afford to purchase bags of food.

Pastor Cooper loves that they have the ability to share the message of God’s love in a unique way. He has Christian music always playing overhead, and there are volunteers that go around chatting with each individual person, getting to know them better.

Feed their bellies and their souls, so to speak. It’s a ministry that serves the people in more ways than one.

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

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