Food is their niche: Zion UCC provides food packages for children, families in need during COVID-19

Zion United Church of Christ in Marion, Illinois is serving their community by packing weekend food packages for children and families in need during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Zion UCC pastor John Holst and his wife Sara wanted to help their community and felt this was the best way to do it. 

John, Sara and several volunteers pack these weekend lunches for all five of the Marion grade schools, the junior high and high school as well as the Boyton Street community center. 

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They pack anywhere from 320 to 350 bags per week on Thursday afternoons at 1 p.m. in the church basement. 

Pastor John said he attended a community meeting the Monday after the schools closed where people were talking about school lunches and the weekend lunches. 

John said he reached out to several groups including the Marion Rotary Club, Kiwanis and the Marion Chamber of Commerce for help with donations and funding. 

John said community members have been very generous with donations. 

“I’ve gotten little notes from people with anywhere from $20 to an extraordinary amount of dollars,” John said. 

The first day of packing was March 20 and Zion UCC will continue to do this until the end of May; if it becomes necessary and after that, they will begin their summer lunch program. 

Most of the volunteers are a mix of people from Zion UCC’s congregation and people from the Marion and southern Illinois community. 

“We’ve had a lot of people say they would like to help and come and volunteer, but we are trying to keep the numbers down for safety reasons,” Sara said. 

The food items change a little bit every week but John and Sara said they try to make sure they are providing healthy options for the weekend food packages. 

Some of these healthy options include apples, packaged fruits, small containers of cereal, breakfast bars, peanut butter, tuna and other items. 

“We are trying to do proteins and other cereal items and fruits,” John said.

John said he usually gets the food items from Sam’s Club in Marion and also from the St. Louis Food Bank. 

 John said this is a very rewarding experience for them and also the people who volunteer their time to help out their community. 

“I really think that’s what our church is called to do,” John said. “We are a church that has identified that food is our niche and making sure that people who are food insecure have food in the community.” 

The Holsts said they wanted to help out a local organization called Gumdrops, which provides weekend food packages to kids in need every week. 

“The folks who created Gumdrops are the real heroes,” John said. “They are the real heroes of the story. They do this all year long in the school districts and they’ve done it for several years.” 

John said because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ron and Amy Simpson, the creators of Gumdrops, are unable to do it right now so it was something Zion United Church of Christ and the community could do to help them out. 

“My hope is that someone has picked up [Gumdrops packages] for the other school districts and are doing the same,” John said. “We just felt like it is too important to not have it continue if at all possible.” 

Staff reporter Bethany Rentfro can be reached via email at [email protected]

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