Many activities at First Baptist involve food – from Wednesday suppers to the Love Feast and the Valentine (or “Talent”ine) Banquet to Scoop & Swim and Trunk or Treat. Most of those are bonuses – occasions to celebrate and have a special meal or goodies.
The church’s Food Co-op is different. It’s about necessity, yet those involved celebrate the changes it has meant for their lives.
“Our money is very limited, so we depend on pantries a lot,” says Penny Carson, a co-op member. “The only thing that we buy is milk and sometimes meat. This helps immensely.”
Carson and her husband, Ricky, are both on disability. They live in Section 8 housing, but they do not receive food stamps. They joined the Food Co-op soon after it was formed last November.
Carson says she prefers the Co-op to a food pantry.
“I’m earning the food; I’m working,” she says. “I’m doing something. It’s not that I’m going and getting. I’m functioning and doing something to help.”
Overseen by Carol McEntyre, FBC community minister, the ministry invites qualified Knox County residents to participate in a cooperative that requires commitment and consistency. After paying a $5 membership fee and a bimonthly $3 handling fee, members meet every other Tuesday in Trentham Hall to unload food the church has purchased from Second Harvest Food Bank, apportion it and, after a Co-op meeting that includes a devotional, take it home.
McEntyre and a couple of FBC members made a day trip to Atlanta last fall to observe a food co-op there in action.
“It’s a well-run, well-oiled machine,” says church member Emily Plemmons.
FBC is still assembling its machine, but Co-op members and church volunteers say it is well on the way, with 14 families out of a capacity of 25. Eventually, the plan is for the members to run the Co-op.
“I believe that we are working the kinks out as we go, and it’s going to be fine,” says Carson’s daughter, Ibby, who lives in Powell.
She says that she’s found hundreds of food pantries but no other co-ops in Knox County. The difference is palpable.
“When I started coming here, I only knew one person, but now I have grown a bond with two or three people,” she says.
Plemmons says the Co-op members aren’t the only ones developing close ties. The trip to Atlanta with McEntyre and Becky Hudson proved a great bonding experience.
“I knew them and felt like they were my friends before, but it just seems like we have a stronger bond through the Food Co-op,” says Plemmons.
Interns like Buckner intern Kristen Tekell (who recently returned to Baylor) and UT graduate student Wendy Woodward are helping the Co-op find its way. Woodward says the Co-op is building
not just friendships but also community. Members are getting the tools to feed both their bodies and their spirits.
“Handouts don’t really help if we’re not investing in a relationship,” says Woodward. “You wouldn’t believe the sharing that’s been going on in this group.”