Helping Hands offers food, comfort

Volunteers for the Helping Hands Ministry get to work Monday at Refuge Church at Pleasant Hill. From left, are Kylee Townsend, Gail Vineyard, Kaitlyn Ditto, T.J. Ditto and Greta Bailey.

Members of the Helping Hands Ministry of Refuge Church at Pleasant Hill provide food and spiritual comfort monthly to those in need.

“We do the third Monday of every month,” Carey Johnson, organizer, said. “It’s something that we put together years ago to help people in the community.”

The ministry partners with Second Harvest Food Bank in Maryville and provides groceries, including vegetables, canned fruits, frozen meats, bread and desserts.

But volunteers also show love and kindness, talk to families and pray for them, Johnson said.

Recipients might be the elderly or young families who are struggling financially. There are also people “in a bind this month” with an unexpected extra expense.

Some recipients don’t have enough money to go to the grocery store after paying other bills. Many could go hungry without the ministry.

“We have a lot of people that are really thankful that we do offer it,” Johnson said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people would come into the church, sign up and sit in chairs inside.

“Now it’s actually a drive-through,” Johnson said.

Instead of having 50 people in a small room, drivers pull up under an awning at a church entrance and volunteers bring out food in grocery carts. Volunteers talk to the families who drive up and find out how their lives are going, Johnson said.

Second Harvest delivers food on the distribution day, which starts at about 5:30-5:45 p.m. the third Monday and continues until 7 p.m. Church offerings are used to help fund the ministry, which serves 40-60 families on an average Monday.

Johnson has been a part of the local ministry for about six years.

“You should always give back to others,” she said. “If you can make someone’s life a little easier, then we should always do that.”

Carey’s brother, Rodney Johnson, an elder at the church, said he has helped since the beginning of the ministry.

“We like to help the community however we can,” Rodney said. “There is a large need for food.”

Ministry volunteers build relationships with people while providing aid.

“I like to meet people,” he said. “I like to help people however I can.”

Carey’s sister, Donna Mayes, also volunteers.

“To me, the most basic need someone has is to get food and feed their family,” Mayes said.

She said working in the ministry is humbling. Those who receive groceries and talk to volunteers are appreciative and sometimes in tears.

“It’s like God heard their prayer,” Mayes said. “I enjoy talking to them every month. … It’s an honor to be a part of it. It could be any one of us based on life circumstances.”

She asks families if the church can pray for them or family members. “It makes the conversation more genuine and you get to know them on a deeper level,” she said.

Mayes got started in the ministry after her brother, Chris, died in 2017 due to colon cancer. He loved the ministry, which motivated her to get involved.

“I know if he were here, he would do it,” she said.