Going deeper: Outreach at St. Timothy's feeds hungry in Iola, Kansas

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June 20, 2008

St. Timothy's Church, Iola, might be small, but it's really cooking up a storm. Literally.

Its parishioners' efforts to provide food for people in their southeast Kansas town — and lots of it — have earned them a nickname.

"We're known as the church that feeds people," said the Rev. Jan Chubb, vicar.

The church, with 40 baptized members and an average Sunday attendance of about 26, for four years has used monthly community dinners to raise money for outreach needs.

Their chicken-and-noodle dinner is so well attended they had to offer "noodle school" so parishioners could learn to make the homemade pasta needed.

But floods last summer that devastated the area brought a new urgency to the need for food in Iola.

With houses and jobs gone, many turned for help to the local food bank. But for those living in motels, a package of spaghetti and a jar of sauce don't do much good without a place to cook it.

Fellowship of the Kitchen
That's when Donna Sifers and Sue O'Connor created the "Fellowship of the Kitchen." Along with other St. Timothy volunteers, they now cook hot meals that are packaged and frozen and delivered to the food pantry. Since September they have cooked more than 1,200 individual servings in easy-to-reheat packages.

"The meals fly out the door within a week," O'Connor said, "which inspires the group to increase the cooking effort each month."

They provide stick-to-the-ribs fare like spaghetti and meat sauce, chicken tetrazzini, and turkey and dressing. The cooks have started supplementing the packaged meals with quarts of hearty soups and stews.

Chubb said she now counts the program's expansion by the number of electric roasters on hand. Nine of the large cookers now are needed, she said, since the small kitchen in the parish hall only has a home-style stove.

A third of the proceeds from the monthly dinners now goes toward supplies for "pantry cook days." Another third buys food for the local food pantry, and another third goes toward direct family assistance.

Meeting a need
Chubb said the reason for all this outreach is simple. "I have people who just refuse to let people go to bed hungry," she said. "There's a need, and it's something they can do. People like to cook, so it's not even like work."

The success of this effort hasn't been lost on the parish, either. "It makes people realize you don't have to be a mega church to really make a difference in people's lives," Chubb said. "We don't have a lot of people, but we can take this on."

Small churches, she said, often exhibit a "we-can't-do-something" attitude. "There's none of that here," she said. "They know they can do these things."

The parish continues to expand its work. Members have volunteered to staff the food pantry so it can be open on Sunday afternoons as well as its usual two mornings a week. "With the increase in working families unable to make ends meet, we thought that would enable us to reach out to additional families that might need assistance," O'Connor said.

Chubb said all the extra cooking has become something more than just outreach for St. Timothy's. Now it's a mission, but one that belongs to the people there.

"They do it," she said. "I help cook when I can, but it's really their ministry. I just get to be the cheerleader."