The Covington First United Methodist Church Food Ministry serves anywhere from 60 to 100 families three times a week, oftentimes extending the hand of goodwill to those who need it most.

by Terri Webster

As the current director of food ministry at Covington First United Methodist Church, Megan Hulgan makes a bold promise: “No one leaves empty-handed.”

What began in a closet many years ago at the behest of a small Sunday School class led by Buster Gregory has blossomed into a full-time food ministry. In the early days, food distributions were every other month, with each family receiving one bag of canned food and one bag of dry food. Eventually, Elizabeth Holcomb was brought in to grow Covington FUMC Food Ministry and Resources, and in 2016, it became a partner agency of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Today, it serves anywhere from 60 to 100 families three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. A mobile food pantry serves the community, as well, usually on the first Saturday of each month. God’s calling remains the pulse behind the continual growth of the program, along with a heart to help feed those in the community who may be vulnerable to food insecurities. With the full support of Covington FUMC Senior Pastor Douglas Gilreath, the outreach offers no-strings-attached, non-discriminatory service administered by those who volunteer under Hulgan’s direction.

“I walk away from every day knowing that we have worked together to make our world just a little bit better for God’s glory.”

Megan Hulgan

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, only Newton County residents were eligible to participate in the weekly food distributions. However, food needs became greater and broader during the global health crisis, so the ministry expanded to include Butts, Jasper and Morgan counties. The partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank allows the ministry to purchase items at extremely low costs under two government-funded programs. The Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Georgia Nutrition Assistance Program require that participants qualify by meeting several risk factors, such as low income and having a child under 18 years of age living in the home.

“The food has helped us fill in the gaps as far as meals for us,” an anonymous participant in the GNAP program said.

“The food and goodies are a big help. I appreciate y’all.”

The FUMC ministry puts an additional safety net in place.

“Even if someone doesn’t qualify for food under either of those programs, we always have emergency food bags prepared from private donations,” Hulgan said. “No one who comes to us will leave without food.”

Covington FUMC on Oct. 23, 2021 hosted a Change the World event—a community outreach affair through which the food ministry gave away 27,000 pounds of food. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“Your pantry has helped so much,” another anonymous recipient said. “My daughter and I are so blessed that we can pay her medical copays because we are able to save money because of the generosity of your food pantry.”

The ministry has grown other branches since its inception, including Pet Food Recovery. Volunteers meet at Rescue Ranch in Rutledge, where they pack bags of dog and cat food, then deliver it to the pantry for distribution throughout the week. Outreach does not end there. The ministry also works with the Society of St. Andrew and Oxford Organic Farm to collect leftover crops after harvest and further buoy the food pantry.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to work with a diverse community to help our neighbors in their time of need,” Hulgan said. “Anytime I’m tired or exhausted or having a bad day, I will, without fail, have an encounter with either a food pantry guest or a volunteer which reminds me of the great opportunity I have been given to serve God and my neighbor.”

The ministry tends to a variety of other community needs. Hulgan estimates she deploys between 20 and 30 volunteers on a regular basis and can always use more help. Opportunities abound.

“There are daily phone calls from neighbors facing homelessness or a medical emergency or transportation emergency, and there is a constant shuffle to try to meet those needs,” Hulgan said. “I walk away from every day knowing that we have worked together to make our world just a little bit better for God’s glory. There is never a slow day at the office.”

For information on the Covington First United Methodist Church Food Ministry, visit CovingtonFirst.org/FoodMinistry, by phone at 770-786-7305 or by email at foodpantry@covingtonfirst.org.

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