St. Thomas UMC Supplies Provisions for Hundreds of Families

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By Wendy Migdal

If you drive past 8899 Sudley Road on a Saturday morning or a Wednesday evening, you may notice a line of cars winding through the parking lot of St. Thomas United Methodist Church. Observe for a few minutes and you’ll witness a well-oiled machine, the parts of which include church volunteers, clients, and supervisors. The supplies for this machine come from the church members, businesses in the Prince William area, and even the federal government, and the output is love and care for the community in its most basic form, food.

Food and Clothing Pickups

The St. Thomas Food Pantry has been serving the community for over 16 years. It’s open twice a week for about two hours, and two times per month, the Community Clothes Closet is also open in conjunction. Anywhere from 200-400 families come through each week, depending on the time of year. “We saw an increase in February as pandemic assistance began running out,” says Rebecca Runkles, supervisor of the Food Pantry. “In the summer months that has dropped off a bit, because many of our clients get more work, such as mowing or roofing, and so they don’t need to come.”

The outdoor clothing closet

The church began curbside food distribution during COVID and has stuck with the model since then. They are continuing to work on innovative ways to help meet the needs of the community as well. When new clients arrive, they register and provide information about the members of their household, any dietary
needs, and income levels. The latter is because St. Thomas partners with the Capital Area Food Bank, which, as a government entity, requires recipients to earn below a certain level. But even if clients don’t meet that requirement, they can still receive other donations paid for by church members or donated from area grocery stores.

Trained volunteers inside the church bag up food from the appropriate room or shelf, and bring it out to the clients’ cars. On the third and fourth Saturdays, clients can also fill out a request for clothing when they arrive at the food pantry, and volunteers make selections from the Clothes Closet and bring those items out to the car as well.

The Daily Work of the Food Pantry

All of this requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Volunteers drive to 10 area grocery stores, six days per week, to pick up donated items. This allows clients to receive bakery items, fresh produce, and meat. Stores donate items that are close to their sell-by date, and the church can sort through them and freeze meat, something that can’t be done at the store.

In addition to items from the Capital Area Food Bank, other grants that the Food Pantry receives require accounting and reporting, and Runkles works with Paula Harper and Teresa Johnson, the Assistant Food Pantry Director, to make sure that all t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. Spanish-speaking volunteers provide important assistance to Hispanic clients during distribution, and St. Thomas is always looking for additional
assistance in this area to better serve the community.

Paula Harper also runs the Local Relief program for the church. St. Thomas received grants from the federal government for pandemic-related assistance. Though this money is running out, they’ve been able to help distribute funds so that area residents can catch up on payments for their utility, childcare, and rent expenses. St Thomas also uses donated funds to assist with these needs when they are able to.

The volunteers themselves illustrate the concept that giving to others is something that benefits the givers as well. High school students who are doing community service hours for a diploma requirement learn firsthand what it means to help others, and about how the world of service operates. What’s especially
meaningful, Runkles relates, is that several of the volunteers were once clients. “I was amazed at how many of our volunteers started coming to us for food. And volunteers can continue to receive food if they need it.”

And these aren’t isolated incidents. “We have people who are coming through now asking about opportunities for volunteering and how they’re able to give back. So I think that the program means a lot to people both in that they’re able to receive food when they can’t really afford it any other way, but it also gives them an opportunity to assist with it and feel like they’re doing good for other people,” Runkles says. And so things become less divided between giver and recipient, a good thing by anyone’s standards.

Other Church Ministries

Christmas Day dinners prepped and ready to distribute to area
residents.

Though the Food Pantry is the biggest ministry of the church, it is by no means the only ministry. Each year, the church hosts a Christmas dinner that is open to the entire community, not just clients or church members. “It’s a way to get people together on Christmas Day, especially for people who may not have family in the area or who aren’t going to have a nice Christmas Day meal otherwise,” says Runkles.

In another partnership, the church works with Aurora Flight Sciences, an aerospace company in Manassas, to gather and assemble backpacks with school supplies for Manassas City Schools. The church also has a special relationship with Loch Lomond Elementary School and has provided supplies and tutoring for students in the past. A group of dedicated women meet every week to assemble quilts that they’ve worked on throughout the week. These are then distributed to several outreach organizations, such as ACTS for victims of domestic violence. And the list goes on.

There’s no doubt that the church members are familiar with the Biblical principle of “give, a full measure, pressed down and running over, for with the same measure you use, it will be given to you.”

Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She enjoys history, reading, and all things dog.

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