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story.lead_photo.caption From left, Jeff Jackson, senior pastor at Searcy First United Methodist Church; David Morris; and Philip Williams stand in its kitchen. The church will host a Fish Fry Fundraiser on Oct. 24 for both lunch and dinner to raise money for Searcy FUMC’s feeding ministry, which provides meals for the homeless. ( Sam Pierce)

— Eight years ago, Searcy First United Methodist Church partnered with Mission Machine — a nonprofit that serves the homeless population in White County — to provide a warming center. Through that partnership, members of the church discovered that one of the biggest needs for the homeless was meals.

“We did a warming center, where we put out cots when it was bitter cold, and we fixed meals for them — a supper for that night and a breakfast in the morning — and we soon realized there was an ongoing need for meals,” said Philip Williams, a member of the church and organizer for the Cooks for Christ ministry. “And that was over eight years ago, and we have gone 420 consecutive weeks without missing a meal.”

Williams said that currently, the church provides about 25 meals on Mondays and Tuesdays of each week that are delivered by Mission Machine. And on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, Cooks for Christ provides a meal for anybody who wants one. As a result of COVID-19, those meals have been made to-go.

“Searcy First United Methodist Church has been a longtime partner and supporter of the work Mission Machine seeks to accomplish,” said Karen Kelley, president of the board for Mission Machine. “[The church’s] members prepare two hot meals a week for an average of 40 people who are experiencing homelessness on any given day.

“They also open up their facilities for these individuals during times of extreme heat and cold, which includes providing meals and a safe place to sleep, as well as taking care of laundry.”

To raise money for its feeding ministry, Searcy FUMC will host a Fish Fry Fundraiser from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5-6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 for both lunch and dinner. Williams said guests can call the church at (501) 268-5896 and place their order ahead of time, to be picked up. Each meal will consist of fish, french fries, coleslaw, tartar sauce and hush puppies. Williams said there is no cost for the meal, but donations are encouraged.

“Our church has been very generous, and people who know about our ministry have contributed,” he said. “It has been amazing the number of people who have helped.”

He said the church will prepare enough food for about 250 people. For more information, visit searcyfumc.com or missionmachinesearcy.com.

Kelley said that by offering hot meals, a safe place to sleep at night and access to resources, Mission Machine seeks to change lives.

“We do this by loving our neighbors in White County who have become homeless, giving them immediate shelter and establishing life-changing connections,” Kelley said.

Mission Machine helps men and women who face the immediate crisis of homelessness, guides participants toward economic self-sufficiency and connects them with the resources they need to attain and maintain housing.”

In 2020, Mission Machine served more than 200 individuals. On any given night, the organization assists 30 to 40 individuals who are experiencing homelessness, Kelley said.

“We are grateful for Searcy First United Methodist Church’s support in raising funds through this fish fry, as well as their ongoing commitment to Mission Machine,” Kelley said.

David Morris, who served as mayor of Searcy from 2011 to 2018 and is a lifelong member of Searcy FUMC, has been a part of Cooks for Christ for about five years.

“I cook with Terry Stephenson to provide meals on Monday for the Mission Machine and church-member shut-ins or homebound people,” Morris said.

“It is just a way to give back and serve the Lord at the same time. It is something I enjoy doing, even when I was serving as mayor,” he said. “As hectic a pace as that was, I would go into the church kitchen and relieve my stress. I enjoyed doing it.

“It is just a way to serve my fellowman and serve the Lord in that process. So many people that we cook for are less fortunate than us and in need.”

Williams said that although the ministry has reached a few people who have now joined the church, that’s not necessarily the main goal. He said the main goal is just to help people — anybody — who is in need.

“We want to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Williams said.

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