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FDA Taps Church Ladies For Food Mission

Church kitchens turn out some tasty home-cooked meals. However, a group of church chefs in Missouri fries, boils, and bakes hundreds of pounds of food each year that no one will ever taste. It's all in the name of food safety and the proceeds go to feed hungry families. Reed Galin reports.

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(Locator: Belton, Missouri)

There may only be a few dozen sausages on the stove…

(squeaking sausage in pan)

Margie Jones: "It's talking to me! It's saying 'Turn me over!'"

…but, Margie Jones is cooking for the entire country. That's how Dana Pearis thinks about her pork chops, too.

Dana Pearis: "The results are going to help people,  that is the big thing."

And Mickey Tabor's frozen peas? She sees the same big picture.

Mickey Tabor: "This is an important service we do cause it keeps our food chain safe."

Grandmas are cookin' up a storm…

Cook: "We have salmon steaks, catfish, liver."

…in the basement kitchen of Crossroads United Methodist Church in Belton, Missouri.

Mickey Tabor: "Little old church lady! Doin' the cookin', yeah!"

Cook: "…lamb chops, pan-cooked, fish sticks…"

It's not to be eaten. Not the grits. Not the 30 pounds of bacon…

Dana Pearis: "Gonna be a hard day to scrub because there's gonna be lots of meat and grease."

It's for testing…. by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Cook: "So this is 18 servings of oatmeal from three different cities."

Early in the morning, sixteen Fridays a year, the Belton United Methodist Women's group goes to work for the FDA, preparing food bought at markets in distant cities and brought here by FDA agents.

Cook:  "Today it's from Birmingham, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Maitland, Florida."

The cooks prepare it as any consumer might at home, and then it is tested in FDA labs for any possible contaminants.

Bettie Robertson: "We are very careful.  We wash our hands in special water; we wash all of our pans in special water. We have to measure everything exactly."

This is the U.S. government at work. And why here, in a church basement, twenty miles from Kansas City?

Ron Sisk, FDA Chemical Analyst: "Work ethic. These ladies come from a different generation. Their conscientiousness is far better than any other particular groups we've dealt with in the past."

The women volunteer their time so the 11,000 dollars the FDA pays for their services each year can benefit their church and their community. Some of the money goes right back into groceries donated to a local food bank. Some helps abused children.

Nancy Jones: "We maintain a fund where we can help people when they need it, like utility bills and stuff like that."

Cook: "Bacon is not on my agenda for the next week!"

This is the only kitchen of its kind used by the FDA. Ron Sisk has run the program since the beginning, more than 20 years ago, and he's seen a lot of volunteers come and go. Sisk does not sound like a bureaucrat when he talks about these United Methodist women.

Ron Sisk: "We've had ladies that were in excess of 90 years old working at different times.

We call them the church ladies. It's kind humorous, it's a little bit funny, but it's not. They're very committed. They're very vital to the program."

Volunteer: "It's the fun with the ladies that we do it with every week, enjoying the companionship."

Hundreds of thousands of dollars - maybe more - have flowed from this kitchen into their community. And they have helped safeguard all Americans for a generation now.

Bettie Robertson: "We know we're an important part of the process because what happens in American kitchens is most closely replicated by us. There is a satisfaction in being able to make sure that our food supply stays safe."


For more information, contact Crossroads United Methodist Church at (816) 331-5258.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.
This story was first posted on July 3, 2014.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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