Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty

"Where's the white van?

"When's the white van coming?"
"Where is the lady in the white van?"

These familiar questions have begun early every Friday at Haleyville Elementary School in Haleyville, Alabama, since 2012.

For five years, Littleville United Methodist Church (Northwest District) has worked through the Backpack Beacons to provide backpacks filled with food, beverages and snacks for the weekend to hungry students in the elementary school. In the first week in 2012, Littleville UMC sent four backpacks to hungry kids. Then, the number increased to 25, and then we added ten more…and then ten more…and then ten more…

This past school year, this small church with an average attendance of approximately 30 people fed 80 school children every weekend. In addition, they provide daytime snacks to middle and high school students who cannot afford to bring them from home.

Each week, approximately thirty hours are spent packing, unloading, picking up supplies, packing the bags, etc. On a usual Wednesday night seven or eight volunteers pack approximately 80 bags.

In the backpacks, each child receives six meals, various snacks for two days, drink boxes or pouches for each meal and snack and bottled water. For many children, this food is all they will have between lunch Friday and breakfast at school Monday.

Haleyville Elementary School is deeply invested in the program. From the beginning, we realized that this ministry cannot work without investment from the school. Fortunately, the staff and teachers have been excited to work with Littleville UMC to ensure that children do not go hungry when they do not have access to school meals. Teachers, staff, and the school principal help identify students who are in need of food.

Haleyville High School is also invested in this food ministry. In past years, they have hosted an Iron Bowl Challenge in which students bring in supplies to fill the bags. The food is placed in piles for either Alabama or Auburn, and the "winning" team bringing the most items gets bragging rights for the year. This food, divided between Littleville and other area churches providing backpacks for other schools, requires a 16-foot tractor trailer and two vans to transport it from the school!

Littleville UMC also works with generous local partners. All money spent on the backpack ministry comes from donations through partnerships and personal donors. The retail value of each filled bags is more than $15. A local grocery store has provided food items at cost, and another often provides monthly gift cards to be used to buy food. Employees of a local company bring food items every two weeks on payday.

Fay Cummings, who started the program and serves as coordinator, notes: "We spread the word around that we were doing this for kids, and different businesses and industries started giving right away."

The Backpack Beacons has provided a great way for Littleville UMC to connect with the community and help the children in our town. We can think of no better ministry than feeding God's children. Each week, children share with the volunteers delivering the food how excited they are to have the food. Often, they share stories of them sharing their supplies with siblings, parents, grandparents, and neighbors. Those stories motivate volunteers to keep the program going strong.

Rev. Holly Woodall, pastor, Lineville First and Oak Grove UMCs in the Southeast District.

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.