NEW ALBANY • This week, a group of volunteers from First Baptist Church in New Albany spent their mornings scurrying around the church’s gleaming industrial kitchen, packing to-go lunches for students for whom extra time off from school due to coronavirus might otherwise mean going without meals.
Church hostess Joy McCullough, who also works in the cafeteria at New Albany High School, said she knew firsthand that even without the coronavirus, food insecurity is a fact of life for many children.
“You know which kids don’t have much food at home,” she said. “Because they’re the ones who’ll get everything you allow them to get at school. It’s sad. It’ll just break your heart.”
McCullough said serving the to-go lunches had been eye-opening for some members of her volunteer crew.
“I’ve had workers who are just amazed that some of these kids live without electricity or water,” she said. “Some of them are living with a grandparent who’s trying to live and support them on a $600 Social Security check. It can’t be done.”
McCullough said in spite of the challenges, she finds joy in serving her community through her church.
“Just knowing a kid’s tummy is full, that’s enough for me,” she said. “Jesus gave his life for us. What’s giving away a sandwich compared to that? It’s fun; I love it.”
Beginning next week, the New Albany school system will distribute meals, which means McCullough and her crew can hang up their aprons, at least for now. She said the week-long experience had been a meaningful one.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I got such a blessing from it. We had one lady who asked if she could pray for us, and she did. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Pastor Andrew Chesteen and his family moved to New Albany just over a year ago. Like Joy McCullough, he said he could see a ministry opportunity arising amid the ripple effects of COVID-19.
“My wife is a teacher in New Albany,” the 27-year-old Chesteen said. “Last Friday, when she said schools would be out for another week because of the coronavirus, we just knew that second week would create a huge need. My wife sees it everyday; so many kids depend on those meals.”
Chesteen said members of his congregation needed no convincing, and quickly mobilized to get the program ready for Monday’s crowd of grateful meal recipients.
“Everyone was on board,” he said. “Our youth pastor, Chris Moore, has been working hard to make sure it goes well. And our church hostess, Joy McCullough, took leadership of the whole project. She’s done a great job.”
Chesteen said both the need, and the volunteers necessary to meet it, were in ample supply.
“In the first two days we had 56 volunteers,” he said. “We did 457 meals, including 191 deliveries. People have worked really hard. It’s been amazing.”
Chesteen said the temporary time of crisis gave the church a unique opportunity to provide not just material support, but spiritual resources as well.
“The coronavirus has given us an opportunity to minister in our community,” he said. “We’ve been able to do so in a way we probably haven’t in the past. We’ve been able to go to places in our community to just serve, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Chesteen said even for those whose immediate physical needs are being met, the church can offer spiritual and emotional support by providing a hopeful perspective in uncertain times.
“It’s been a time of reset for our country,” he said. “The world is anxious and panicked. We need to be genuinely concerned, but as Christians we can have peace. We can see this as an opportunity instead of a problem. We get to talk about the hope we have, and the love God has for each of us.”
Chesteen said events like the coronavirus outbreak invite dialogue around age-old theological quandaries.
“You have to go back to Genesis,” he said. “When sin entered the world it brought a curse, and the end of that curse is death. Even sickness and natural disaster are consequences of living in a fallen world. Eternal life frees us from those effects.”
Chesteen said in cultural moments like this one, faith in God can either be weakened or strengthened.
“I don’t think there’s anything God can’t do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s outside the bounds of faith to ask God to miraculously intervene. People say, ‘How can you trust in God in the middle of a pandemic?’ But my response is, ‘How can you not?’”