by Mari-Alice Jasper
Eagle Post Editor
A handful of A Mission of Hope volunteers passed out free brown bag lunches to dozens of hungry people during the first week of the charity's 6-week feeding program, which kicked off June 3.
Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Monday - Friday through July 19 at the Oak Grove Community Center, 1705 Thompsonville Lane.
Each bagged lunch includes nonperishable items such as tuna, ham or chicken salad, crackers, cookies, applesauce, vienna sausages and fruit cocktail. When receiving the lunch, patrons also pick up a piece of fresh fruit and a bottle of water.
On Fridays, children receive a Lunchable and Hi-C fruit drink as a special treat.
People of all ages are welcome to enjoy the free meal, said Dawn Thomas, A Mission of Hope president and program coordinator.
"We don't care. If you are hungry, you can come in and we will feed you," Thomas said.
This is the sixth year A Mission of Hope has offered the free bagged lunch service to the Oak Grove community. A Mission of Hope is a volunteer organization that is part of Living Waters Church's benevolence ministries.
Because of that partnership, A Mission of Hope also is able to assist community members with financial challenges, Thomas said.
When the group of volunteers formed nine years ago, they offered a hot lunch program. Since then, their offerings have evolved to the bagged lunch. Thomas said this is a way to reach more people who struggle with food insecurity.
"This way, people can take things home if they need to, because sometimes this meal might be the only thing they have that day," Thomas said.
A Mission of Hope volunteers determined there was a need for the free lunch program because of personal accounts witnessed through their church, she said.
Thomas said she also has personal experience with food insecurity.
"As a kid I didn't have anything and people were kind enough to feed me and my sisters and brother as children," she said. "If it wasn't for the kindness of strangers that wouldn't have happened."
Last year, nearly 3,000 bagged lunches were served during the summer, Thomas said.
"We were blessed to be able to continue the program through the winter bringing lunches to the office anywhere from 35 - 50 lunches every month except when the children are on break, we've been bringing extra lunches so when the kids are out of school they also are able to have lunch," she said.
Thomas said it takes a special person to serve as A Mission of Hope volunteer. Nearly all volunteers also work full-time jobs, she said. All volunteers abide by a strict mission statement, she added.
"God made everybody, no matter the color of your skin, whether you are rich or poor, live in a box or a nice house, have a fat wallet or no wallet, if you can't love them the way Jesus would love them, then you can't work with us," Thomas said. "That's how we feel. If you can't come here and treat people with dignity and respect, then you can't work with us. We want to love everyone. That's why we do this."
The food items in the lunches are generated through food drives hosted by A Mission of Hope at Oak Grove Walmart. Monetary donations also are made by individuals, Thomas said.
"If we don't get donations we can't do all of the things that we are doing, and God has blessed every single thing, because we keep it purely not as a pat on the back but as the things we are supposed to be doing for the people around here," she said.
Donations are always accepted and volunteers are always welcome, Thomas said. To make a donation or volunteer, call Thomas at 931-436-1306.
Anyone needing assistance also is encouraged to contact Thomas or Melissa Lynch, Oak Grove Community Center director.
"This really is a chance to give back and to love on this community. We really do love this community," Thomas said. "Everything we do is 100 percent donations and volunteers. Everything that comes in, goes out. None of us take any money."