Photo by Don Felice, Georgia Divisional Director of Communications
Georgia Service Center Partners with Local Church to Staff Canteen Ministry
By: David Ibata
About a year ago, Charlene Sears, director of the St. Marys, Georgia, Service Center, had a Salvation Army mobile kitchen without a mission. The Army had transferred the canteen from Brunswick, Georgia, about 40 miles away, and now it was Sears’ responsibility.
Ordinarily, the vehicle would have gone to a local corps – except St. Marys, in Camden County on the Atlantic coast, has no corps. “It sat in my parking lot for a while and was going into disrepair,” she said. “I was trying to figure out what to do with it.”
Meanwhile, unknown to Sears at the time, a local church wanted to start a food outreach. “They had actually prayed to get a food truck before I ever met them,” she said.
With the help of a ministry partner, The Salvation Army and the Restoration Church of Kingsland, Georgia, connected and came up with a plan: The Army would provide the vehicle; the church would provide the people to maintain and operate it. The church also pays for the groceries for its ministry.
The canteen remains the Army’s, lettered as such and always on call for emergency and disaster relief duty. It’s kept in a secure, indoor location on church property, and on Sundays, it’s crewed by church members as they take food, the gospel and The Salvation Army name to impoverished communities around Camden County.
Sears said that under the leadership of Restoration Pastor Greg Gardell, “they have built six teams with about 60 people. Two are preps, and four are delivery. Every Sunday before church, one of the preps teams prepares the food, and after church, one of the delivery teams goes out to feed more than 200 people.”
The truck travels to “food insecure” areas with limited options for affordable food, where many residents qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Volunteers go to a particular location – say, a trailer park – announce themselves and serve hot meals. An estimated 12,500 people have been fed over the past year – spaghetti dinners, beef stew, meatloaf, chili, goulash. “It’s a lot of one-pot stuff, easy to prepare, easy to serve out of a canteen,” Sears said.
It’s not to provide daily sustenance – the truck visits a different place every week – but as an act of kindness and to educate residents about services available to them. With the meal, volunteers provide a list of community food banks and information about classes and resources offered by The Salvation Army.
“In partnership with Salvation Army, our groups go out and deliver food on The Salvation Army Mobile Feeding Canteen (food truck),” Restoration Church says on its “Brown Bag Ministry” web page. “The name ‘brown bag’ is meant to signify the simplicity of this ministry. Simple as it may be, this ministry has very significant meaning to our church and serves as a direct overflow of our Sunday morning service. One group prepares and packages the meals, and the other group goes out to deliver the food to each area and show the love of Christ.”
“Restoration Church comes as ambassadors of Christ, showing grace in love and following our call to ‘give as we have been given unto.’”
The Salvation Army also benefits by having a cadre of recruits for disaster relief; more than 60 Restoration churchgoers have volunteered for training. “We got our first call for service last October for Hurricane Matthew, and we served four days, providing food to the National Guard as they worked to clean up and restore power and water to Camden County,” Sears said.
“I wanted to figure out how to use (the canteen), keep it running, get volunteers,” Sears said. “This was a way to get all of those things accomplished. (Restoration members) keep it maintained, stocked, cleaned, gassed up and ready to go. It gives us great exposure, because every week, that canteen is rolling out to somewhere in the county. It’s a win-win for us.”