The well-established food ministry was “one of the things that attracted me here,” pastor David Riggs said.
He has been the Pastor at Faith Memorial for the past 12 years.
“This church was unique in that it ministers to more people outside the doors (of the church) than it does inside,” Riggs said.
The food ministry was started in 1981 by the former pastor’s wife, Gladys Littlefield.
“She would help people with groceries and it kind of snowballed from there to where we needed a bigger space,” Riggs said. “At first it was very loosely organized. Anyone who needed help stopped by and we helped them. We kind of had to organize it and set time frames.”
The church then built a place for the ministry next to the church’s main sanctuary.
“Memorial has kind of been known in this community by its colloquial name, which is ‘Littlefield’s’ because of the founding pastor (M.E. Littlefield) and his ministry mostly to the poor,” Riggs said.
The pastor said no one is turned away when they initially come to the food ministry. Individuals and families who continue to come to the ministry are qualified by poverty guidelines through the church’s computer database.
Riggs said since the start of the ministry other organization have also stepped up to fill the needs of the hungry in the community. To ensure that those served are not taking advantage of multiple organizations to fill the same need at the same time, many local charities use Charity Check. This subscription database management service is used to cross-reference clients with those of other organizations in the community. Clients are checked in each time they come to the ministry.
The ministry is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Partnerships in the community have also helped the ministry. Riggs said the ministry buys food from the Chattanooga Food Bank and has partnered with Feed America. The ministry also receives food that is still useable but not sellable from local stores. Through the Feed America program, local organizations are partnered with specific Walmart stores for donations. Peyton Distribution and Panera Bread also donate to the ministry.
“We typically have 80 to a 100 families a week — that translates into somewhere around 300 to 400 people a week,” Riggs said. “A lot of our clientele are senior citizens [who] are alone, and live on fixed income.”
While many of the volunteers attend Faith Memorial, some do not attend the church, but have connected with the ministry as a way to serve the community.
“Those who really had a heart for it stuck. Most of the people we have here have been here quite a few years,” Riggs said. “All of our volunteers are probably 60 or over.”
Food and monetary donations are also accepted from individuals. Riggs said some who contribute to the ministry have never attended Faith Memorial, but have a heart for helping others.
He attributes this to the fact they have more time available in the morning when the food ministry is open.
One such person is Elmer Earls.
“He is one of our biggest contributers,” Riggs said.
The ministry allows people to come once every two weeks to receive food. In addition to a bag of groceries, those coming to the food ministry also have an opportunity to choose personal care items or larger food items such as juice from shelves.
“Typically each family will receive $50 to $60 in value,” Riggs said.
To comply with the Feed America and Chattanooga Food Bank standards, at least one volunteer serving each day has passed a food-handling course.
Since the ministry is open every weekday, it does not place a great emphasis on food baskets for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Riggs said occasionally turkeys will be donated at Thanksgiving and the ministry gives those out. An increase in donations by individuals is usually seen in November and December.
The food ministry also benefits from the annual Share Your Christmas Food Drive. This year the drive will be held Dec. 7 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Life Care Centers of America’s Campbell Campus.