In 2011, as our church began looking outward, Carol McEntyre learned of a Food Co-Op in Atlanta. She and some members of the Missions Council made a trip to Atlanta to observe. After this visit, the Missions Council felt this Co-Op was a good opportunity for First Baptist to meet the needs of those in our community who needed a supplement to food stamps and government assistance. In the Fall of 2011, Carol, Becky Hudson, Emily Plemmons and Betty Chandler made another trip to see first-hand how the Georgia Ave. Community Ministry operated. As Emily has put it, “we learned that it's a well-oiled machine.”
The first informational meeting was held on May 3, 2011. The beginning was slow. Flyers went out in the area and especially to South Knox Elementary School with no response. When Wendy Woodard, our community ministry intern, came on board she began to go into the highways and byways and that is when the Co-Op began to grow. Seven years ago, Allison Cross became a member of the Food Co-Op and through her growth, faithfulness, and leadership, she became the Director of the Co-Op.
We are a Food Co-Op in that we are similar to many food pantries, a low-income food cooperative that uses tax-deductible donations from its supporters to buy food from a food bank, ours being Second Harvest. The Co-Op differs from a food pantry because members have food security, meaning they know they will have an adequate amount of food every other week for their families.
Since we have a Fish Food Pantry here, you might wonder why we would have another food distribution program. We are not only giving out food, but we are building relationships and community. We are not giving a hand-out, we are giving a hand-up, and changing our members’ lives.
Here is some information about what we do. The Co-Op meets every two weeks on Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Trentham Hall. To be a member of the Co-Op, families are required to live in Knox County, have income that falls within the guidelines for the size of family, and receive some type of Federal assistance such as SNAP, SSI, etc. They must be able to attend the Co-Op meetings, be on time and have transportation to take food home. Members must go through orientation, pay a five dollar joining fee, and pay three dollars at each meeting. (These fees do not pay for food.) The amount of food they receive every two weeks depends on the size of the family. For instance, a family of 1-3 persons receives a small box, families of 4-6 members receive a medium box, and families with seven or more receive a large box. You may wonder how this is done---small families get one can of corn, medium families get two cans of corn, and large families get three cans of corn. Through the USDA food that we get, each family receives the same amount---four of each of whatever we order until it is all distributed.
New families arrive at 9:15 a.m. for orientation and to fill out the proper paperwork. During orientation the member’s pledge, "I pledge to be a faithful member of the Food Co-Op with the help of God. I understand and will uphold the requirements and code of conduct and ask others to help me to do so. I will work to make the Food Co-Op successful and will respect the members and staff. I will not gossip and will endeavor to learn to speak "truth and love" to those with whom I have disagreements."
I know you might be wondering how we make sure all of these requirements are upheld. Well we are not the Food Co-Op cops, however, as we hear things, we try to address them, and we strive to help the members learn to govern themselves. Twenty-seven families are enrolled at this time. Others that have been with us during the years have found jobs or moved, etc.
What happens at our meetings? The members arrive at 10 a.m. Members sign in and pay their three dollar fee. Members can owe no more than nine dollars. If a member fails to attend or make contact for two meetings in a row, they will be suspended for two meetings. If a member cannot attend a meeting, the member may call with the circumstances and give the name of a representative to come in their place with an authorizing note signed by the member.
Members cannot sell the food they receive. They can, however, give the food away. We see a sense of community in that they are sharing the food with each other. Members cannot expect to "drop-in", pick up their box of food and leave. They unload the food when it arrives, distribute the food, break down the boxes, clean up, and assist each other to get the boxes of food to their cars. After the food distribution, members meet together for a time of sharing praises and prayer requests. Afterward, different members provide a short devotion, followed by a time of prayer. Praying, sharing, and working together create a sense of family and unity within the group.
Please pray for each of our Co-Op Families. The leaders who are emerging from the group have many challenges to overcome. Some do not read or write. Others have learning disorders. About one-third are raising their grandchildren. Some do not have transportation and have difficulty getting to the meetings. Some are in their 40's and 50's and in poor health. We encourage and love one another. Please pray for us as we strive to create a sense of community and to provide food for the spirit as well as for the body.
We are very grateful to God for this Ministry.