The Rev. Charles Sigman of St. Paul UMC, left, and the Rev. Jesse Perkins, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jonesboro, Ark.
Story by Audrey Hanes. Photo by Amy Long. From Jonesboro Occasions.
Last year, the Rev. Jesse Perkins of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church wondered what would happen if his church started a Saturday food ministry program. That dream has now become a reality, and the community couldn’t be more grateful.
Perkins set his idea into motion after one of his weekly breakfasts with the Rev. Charles Sigman of St. Paul United Methodist Church and Eric Van Meter, the director of the Wesley Foundation at Arkansas State University. After mentioning the idea to both men, Sigman and Van Meter quickly jumped on board. Sigman brought the idea before the St. Paul membership, who immediately agreed to partner with St. Mark’s.
“I thought it was an excellent idea because there is nothing on this side of Jonesboro,” said Sigman. “My thought was that it could only be stronger by combining the two churches.”
Actually combining the two churches, St. Mark’s and St. Paul, inspired the name for the food program: Two Saints’ Kitchen.
“It just sort of came to me and it just made sense,” said Sigman. “At the time, I was sort of throwing it out there, and people at my church liked it and people at St. Mark’s liked it, so it just sort of stuck.”
For the next six months, the men continued to meet weekly for breakfasts and other meetings to iron out the details of the food ministry. They decided to host a weekly lunch in St. Mark’s Parrish Hall on Saturdays. Perkins said one key factor to choosing the type of food distribution was the church’s preschool program that is held in the church during the week.
“Since we have the day school here, we knew it would have to be held on the weekend,” said Perkins. “But, when we looked at it, that’s really the one day there isn’t a food program offered in town, especially for children. They may not have much to eat over the weekends.”
Two Saints’ Kitchen is not just open to the hungry; it is also open to those who may be alone, are lonely or who need a person to talk to. Perkins said some of those who come in are quiet and come in simply to eat, but others enjoy visiting.
“Anyone is welcome,” said Perkins. “We don’t check for need. If you’re a millionaire and you’re lonely, we want you here.”
St. Mark’s and St. Paul began promoting their new ministry by distributing flyers to numerous locations across the city, including the Northeast Arkansas Food Bank, Helping Neighbors Food Pantry, First Baptist Church’s food program, senior centers and apartment communities.
On July 30, Two Saints’ Kitchen opened its doors for its first Saturday meal with just two or three in attendance. Just two months later, the program was averaging 17 diners per week.
“Attendance is lower at the beginning of the month, but it tends to grow toward the end of the month,” said Perkins.
Each week, five of the more than 60 volunteers help cook and clean. Currently, members from each of the two churches alternate helping out each week. Perkins said that so far, many of the volunteers have yet to help because so many have signed up. Early this year, Perkins hopes to restructure the teams, blending the members to further expand the camaraderie between the two churches.
Before the teams come in, Brandon Johnson of St. Mark’s does all the shopping and lays out all of the items the team will need. When the teams get there, an instruction sheet directs each person to their task.
With only a couple exceptions, Two Saints’ Kitchen has served baked spaghetti each week and has become known in some circles as the baked spaghetti church. In December, the leadership team began serving chili as its main dish each week.
Perkins said the food for each week’s meal is purchased at Harp’s, thanks to store manager Chris Ross’s generosity.
“Chris and Harp’s have been great to us,” said Perkins. “They’ve given us a really good discount and have said that as we’re needing more, the discount can grow.”
Ross said the store donates a minimum of a 50 percent discount each week, and some weeks, it is able to help at a higher percentage.
“We try to help in many ways in Jonesboro, so we were excited to help with this program,” said Ross. “It’s helping more and more people out. I thought it was a good thing they were taking on, and I thought it would be a good way for myself and Harp’s to give back to the community.”
Perkins said having the grocery store help them with food cost has made the program very economical, with each meal costing less than $1 per person. A church volunteer also provides fruit each week.
“Both churches are within one to one-and-a-half miles of Harp’s, so they are essentially in our neighborhood,” said Sigman. “They have really been a big help to us.”
In late November, Two Saints’ Kitchen was awarded the Feed the Hungry Grant by the United Methodist Church. Sigman said the money will be used for food and operational costs.
Perkins said he invites any individuals and families who would like to volunteer to join them by calling the church at 932-2124 to set up a date to serve. Two Saints’ Kitchen is held on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Parrish Hall, 531 W. College Ave. Enter through the courtyard.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2012 issue of Jonesboro Occasions magazine and is reprinted here with permission.