Sumter church sees increased need for food donations during pandemic


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What was supposed to start at 10 a.m. started much earlier after vehicles lined South Washington Street two hours before First Missionary Baptist Church planned to open its monthly mobile food pantry to the community Saturday.

Since April, the church has partnered with Harvest Hope Food Bank to feed those in need, and they don't plan to stop anytime soon because the need continues to grow in Sumter.

"We started back in April right at the time of COVID-19," said George Windley Jr., pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church. "Once a month, sometimes twice a month, we've been going up to Columbia to pick up the food, sort it out and then that Saturday morning, we'd distribute it to those who are in need."

According to Harvest Hope, one in six South Carolinians struggles with food insecurity and hunger. To change this, Harvest Hope has distributed 33 million pounds of food each year throughout South Carolina's soup kitchens, shelters, food pantries and schools in about 20 counties.

Windley said he's thankful for the opportunity to partner with Harvest Hope because they wanted to help do something right for the community, and it has shown in the past couple months.

"It was a definite need in Sumter," Windley said. "COVID-19 affected those (who are) jobless, kids are out of school, summer camps are closed We just wanted to make sure people had food in their homes."

Lori McMichael, food pantry coordinator at the church, said the drive-through pantry has shown how many people in the community are food insecure.

"We've been able to do anywhere from 75 to over 120 bags per month," McMichael said. "There's a great need to feed the community. It's one of those things where if you don't see it, you don't talk about it, but there are some people that are going hungry every day. It could be your neighbor, and you don't even know about it."

First Missionary Baptist Church has a mission to feed the community, McMichael said. They passed out about 140 boxes on Saturday, and she said she thinks they will ask Harvest Hope for about 200 boxes next month based on Saturday's turnout.

"It was more than we had the last time," McMichael said. "There are so many people who are out of work and so many people who are needing food right now and just for their children. That just shows there's a greater need."

With there being a greater need, McMichael said they've been fortunate for the Food Lion on U.S. 15, which donates to the church its surplus of food once a week.

She and Windley both said the church has received 30-35 grocery bags from Food Lion every Sunday for the past two months, which they have passed on to community elders who are unable to go grocery shopping for themselves.

"The Bible tells us we should feed his sheep," McMichael said. "As we're feeding those in the community, we're demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ."