For East Charlotte church and its neighbors, meals are a common language

A timely partnership has helped Central UMC become a vital presence in its community – while giving members of the congregation a way to share God’s love with neighbors in need.

Every Tuesday, an outreach team from Central delivers lunches to senior citizens in subsidized low-income housing a few blocks from the church’s Albemarle Road campus.

The ministry provides more than a meal. It’s also an opportunity for connection with a group of folks struggling with loneliness and isolation. Seniors often line up out front to wait for volunteers to arrive. They’re eager to exchange greetings and a bit of conversation, says Bette Nazarchyk, a church member who helps lead the Central Feeds program.

“So many of them appear to be lonely and just enjoy coming out to talk to someone,” Bette said. “Many times, we are there long after the last plate is passed out.”

Reaching a diverse population

The neighborhoods along Albemarle Road are among the most diverse in Charlotte. About a third of residents identify as Latino, a third as Black or African American and one in five as white or Caucasian. Surprisingly, Central’s outreach team has encountered residents from Ukraine and Russia during meal deliveries.

“A number of them have relatives in Ukraine they are worried about,” Bette said. “One lady has a son over there. She has been very tearful when she has spoken to us about him.”

Reaching out with a meal is a first step in making disciples for Jesus Christ, says Rev. Ron Perry, pastor of Central UMC (pictured above with Bette and Mark Nazarchyk).

“There’s a language barrier, but those meals speak a common language,” Ron said. “We’re meeting that need. And it opens a door for people to be met where they are with their spiritual needs. But you have to feed them first.”

The Foundation’s Reynolds Ministry Fund acts as a catalyst, enabling the church to buy enough food and supplies for 100+ plates each week.

Central Feeds embodies what it looks like to be in relationship with our neighbor, says Annalee Allen, Director of Reynolds Ministries & Programs. On a recent visit to see the program in action, Annalee noticed several people approach Bette to share prayer requests. One resident asked how to get involved with Central’s Christmas Card ministry.

“The depth of the relationships they have developed is obvious,” Annalee said.

A lesson in how God shows us the way

Like many smaller congregations, Central UMC struggled to regain its footing after the pandemic. Worship attendance sagged. An effort to start a dinner church fizzled.

Searching for ways to engage the community, Bette got connected with Feeding Charlotte, a nonprofit that partners with businesses to rescue their leftover freshly prepared meals and deliver them to local nonprofits who feed the hungry.

The success of the partnership has brought renewed energy to the 340-member church.

Central hosts a dual-language preschool, Hispanic Scout troop and food pantry, while providing space for AA meetings and a group with intellectual and development disabilities. A Girl Scout troop began meeting in the spring.

“We try in every way we can to share our Christian love,” Bette said. “It is so amazing that God provided this (opportunity)… when we thought there was no way to go forward.”

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