Local church partners with Salvation Army to provide meals to needy

By: Melanie Tucker

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays, The Salvation Army in Maryville, Tennessee, has set up at a local church to offer a free meal to anyone who needs it, no questions asked.

Captain Jon-Phil Winter and Salvation Army Mission Specialist Eddy Ekhardt initially met with Broadway United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Laura Rasor and others from the church to talk about creating an outreach program in 2016. The church agreed to let the Salvation Army set up in its parking lot.

“It started slowly with a Salvation Army canteen truck parked in the church’s parking lot, offering a cold, bagged lunch, particularly for the homeless, many of whom spend the day at the public library,” said Barbara Penn, outreach chair at Broadway.

But as summer became fall and then winter, Broadway UMC offered to let The Salvation Army come indoors, use its kitchen facilities and allow partakers of the meal to sit down and eat in a warm place.

Captain Winter has since been appointed to the Jacksonville, North Carolina, Corps. Ekhardt and his wife, Janine, now oversee the program.

The meal has become soup and hot beverages, Penn said. As word has gotten out about the ministry, it has grown to feed more than 100 individuals on any given Friday.

“The lunch service has steadily grown to a recent high of 194 meals served in one day (both eat in and take out),” Penn said. She said Thanksgiving dinner was also provided this past year for the first time. Broadway fixed meals for 172 people at the church, along with 300 takeout meals.

Agencies like United Way and the Blount County Public Library have helped promote the outreach. About half of the clients take their meals to go; the rest prefer to sit in a warm fellowship hall and dine with others.

“Through this partnership, Broadway and The Salvation Army offer a nutritious meal, friendly faces, prayer, concern and a safe and comfortable place to share a meal,” Penn said.

One recent Friday, goulash and Mexican and Italian soups were on the menu, along with ham, turkey and bologna sandwiches, and chips and cookies. Sandwich bags containing snacks and hygiene products were available to all who needed them. People have also donated clothing to be given away.

Sycamore Tree United Methodist, Monte Vista Baptist, the Chilhowee Baptist Center and St. Paul AME Zion also support the free Friday meal. Additionally, people have simply walked in and handed Ekhardt a check to keep the outreach going.

Its location in downtown Maryville has given Broadway a perspective of the homeless population others don’t always see. Penn said the congregation knows the library is one place where the homeless population goes to stay safe and warm on cold days.

Ekhardt said he has seen homeless people parked behind shopping centers, camped in the park and walking away from the hot meal with no place to go.

As the outreach has continued to expand, Broadway decided to give its entire Christmas Eve 2017 offering to The Salvation Army, specifically to support the Friday lunch program. The offering came to a total of $2,082, almost three times last year’s, a significant amount donated by a relatively small congregation.

“Clearly this is an effort our church has embraced, and it is touching many lives in the community,” Penn said.

Melanie Tucker is a staff writer for the Maryville, Tennessee, Daily Times, Jan. 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission.