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Blessing Boxes: First UMC helps Fairfield County needy

Again and again, Jane Hinnant felt the tug on her heart.

She knew it was God, knew He wanted her to step up and do something to help, but the why-not reasons piled on.

"I just kept shoving it back," said Hinnant, longtime member of First United Methodist Church in the heart of Fairfield County. She knew about the poverty issues in her community, saw the needs in the two square miles surrounding her church, but she didn't think it was for her to address.

God had other plans.

The tug became an outright prod, and Hinnant met with her pastor, which led to gathering of a few friends for a brainstorming lunch at her home. A year and a half later, God's will is now being done through Hinnant and other members of First in what they call the Blessing Box Ministry.

On the first Thursday of every month, First gives out boxes of basic non-food items to its neighbors in need, from cleaning supplies and paper products to hygiene items. When they started in March, they gave out 25 boxes, but they'd doubled it to 50 six months later. They plan to increase that number again soon.

The Rev. Julie Belman, First's pastor, said the need is great. Particularly since the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Plant abruptly closed and left thousands out of work, money is tight.

"We started with the simple idea of 'let's love our neighbors; how can we love them better?'" Belman said. Initially, they envisioned a feeding project, but they discovered there were lots of other groups helping with food, so they began to discern what needs were not being met.

"We realized food stamps don't cover paper towels, laundry soap, deodorant, diapers, feminine products—and this stuff is expensive!" Belman said.

Church members donate items for the boxes, such as laundry and dishwashing detergent, all-purpose cleaner, sponges, trash bags, paper towels, toilet and facial tissue, deodorant, soap and toothpaste. They give a Bible to all first-timers and other community partners help.

"It is just such a blessing," Hinnant said—both to those doing the serving and those being served.

Just looking outside First UMC gives evidence of the need. People line up beginning at 5 a.m. outside the church.

The church doesn't ask for much information from those served. As Belman said, it's a judge-free zone.

"No rules, no judgment, no qualifiers other than they must live in Fairfield County," she said.

Milton Hinnant not only volunteers on box day but sponsors a box every month and takes it personally to someone he knows who is in need.

"We're all here on this earth together, all have one Father in Heaven, and we need to serve," he said. "It's a way to help people."

Jessica Brodie, editor, South Carolina Advocate

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are engaging in ministry with the poor which encourages them to be in ministry with their communities in ways that are transformative.

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