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Church fights food insecurity with 36K free meals

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The second Saturday of each month, Jim and Cindy Tierney, members of FUMC Lufkin, pull a barbecue pit into the parking lot by Herty Primary School. They start setting up around 9:30 a.m. Jim lights the charcoal, preparing to cook hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers for families in need. The couple hangs a sign on a chain link fence that reads, “Free Lunch This Saturday.”

Lufkin United Methodist Church is a part of the Texas Annual Conference.

Courtesy photo. 
Courtesy photo.

“The community knows to look for the sign,” Cindy said. “We’ll be there.”

Before the meals are served, Jim offers a blessing. “Anyone who is around circles up and prays,” Cindy said.

The Tierneys have hosted the Cook & Serve at Herty Primary for the past 10 years. In total, the couple and volunteers have prepared and served 36,000 meals to families in need at the school that teaches students from pre-k to second grade.

And the Tierneys never miss a month. If a conflict arises, they simply change the date of the lunch.

The Tierneys joined FUMC Lufkin about three decades ago. Their fellow church members Brent and Laura Brookshire started the Cook & Serve ministry at a different location, closer to the church, to provide meals to homeless individuals. “They felt a need to give back, and came up with this idea,” Jim said.

He learned about the offering when the Brookshires asked him to help build a covered area, where they could set up and serve. The Brookshires hosted one day a month, and other couples volunteered to host other weekends. In total, there were about three Saturdays on the calendar each month dedicated to Cook & Serve.

At the time, Cindy, who serves as executive director of student services and federal programs at Lufkin ISD, was the principal of Herty Primary. “In that area, there are a lot of families in need,” Jim said. “There are houses that sometimes have water, sometimes have electricity, and sometimes do not.”

Cindy explained that the school was about 98 percent low-income. “There were folks in need everywhere,” she said.

The Tierneys began brainstorming. They proposed taking the Cook & Serve model to a new location at Herty Primary, where they could reach a different population – low-income families. “There were a lot of kids on the other side of town that weren’t getting fed on weekends,” Jim said.

Courtesy photo. 
Courtesy photo.

The Tierneys reached out to the church and the community for volunteers and donations. The first Cook & Serve at Herty Primary was in March 2013.

Cindy said that it took a while for the buzz to build, but now the Cook & Serve at Herty Primary is a fixture on calendars for a number of families. On their busiest days, volunteers have served 240 hot dogs and 240 hamburgers. On an average day, 160 of each are served.

For years, families stuck around and ate their meals. Bible studies and crafts were provided for children.

During COVID, the Cook & Serve switched to a drive-through – and now is a hybrid of both. Cindy asks drivers how many children are in the household and hands them coloring sheets with a Bible verse for each.

“Our goal is to try to teach other people how to serve in the community, how to give back,” Jim said.

excerpt from a story by Lindsay Peyton, North Texas Annual Conference

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.

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