Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
Tucked away on Woodbridge Street in Manchester sits New River Community Church, where twice a month the sweet aroma of freshly baked treats and sounds of lighthearted laughter fill the lobby.
Since October 2016, New River’s Friends & Food program has created a welcoming space for people from all walks of life to gather prior to the arrival of the Mobile Foodshare truck, a “pantry-on-wheels” that distributes fresh fruits, vegetables and bread to those who are struggling to provide food for themselves or their families.
Of the nearly 100 people that are helped by New River’s Mobile Foodshare site, about half participate in Friends & Food.
“We just love to greet people here at New River and it’s our desire that they feel at home when they enter through our doors,” shared Josie Robertson.
For Clara Henry and Joyce Millet, it has become just that. Every other week, the two, whose friendship spans two decades, meet up at New River and are nourished with food and fellowship before receiving fresh produce to take home.
“They are very, very friendly people,” shared Henry. “They make you feel like you are a part of the family. You can talk to them no matter what. They listen. If you’re hungry, you come. But, you don’t even have to tell them that you’re hungry. They will ask you if you want a cup of coffee or some cookies, and that is very unusual and unlike other places.”
By participating in Urban Alliance’s Beyond the Basics initiative, which helps churches and parachurch organizations reach and serve people who are lacking food, clothing or housing so they meet their basic needs and gain greater stability in their lives, New River has received support to help strengthen their basic needs program.
“Urban Alliance has provided New River with training for some of our volunteers to better serve and care for those in our community,” explained Robertson.
The training, based on the Hospitality + Service curriculum, helps program staff and volunteers build strong relationships with the people they serve by implementing the “S.E.R.V.E.” principles of hospitality. Robertson and others from New River were able to brainstorm how they could apply the principles to improve their program’s culture.
Urban Alliance grant funding has allowed the church to purchase furniture, lighting, artwork, signage and clean table coverings for their Friends & Food program. Supplies received through Beyond the Basics and World Vision’s Essential Supplies Program helped create a warm and inviting atmosphere.
For friends Henry and Millet, New River is meeting very real needs, and is an answer to prayer.
“All I live on is my Social Security, which is not much.” shared Millet. “But, my God provides for me.”
Henry agreed. “I know my Father. If there is something I need, and I ask God to show me, He shows me. I have a house I am still paying on and all I live on is my Social Security, so this place helps me. When you have the bills to pay this time of the month, you can come get some produce to help you, to balance you out,” she said.
And, the food they receive helps them maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“I’ll tell you, this food helps me eat much healthier,” shared Millet, who works hard to stay active, having had triple bypass surgery just a few years ago.
“I take the carrot I get and shred it and put it in the salad. I cut up the tomato and put it in there, too,” shared Henry. “I thank God that I’m 75 and I don’t have any ailments and take no medication.”
New River’s deep desire to provide a welcoming environment where community members can receive the resources they need to gain greater life stability is evidenced by the smiles that fill the lobby during Friends & Food.
And, for Henry and Millet, each person that walks through the doors is a new opportunity to make a friend.
“Come! Yes, come,” Henry encouraged. “Everything is just nice and you will enjoy it.”
New River Community Church’s upcoming Friends & Food program dates are March 14, March 28, April 11 and April 25, 2018 at 11:30am. For more information, call 860.648.2970. Click here for more information about Beyond the Basics.