These meals come with a ministry
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
First, the food. Today, it’s spaghetti with meat sauce, green beans, garlic toast, a slice of cake and a container of applesauce. Fifty-four identical servings on 54 styrofoam plates with lids that close. It’s taken volunteers hours to prepare the meals. Now all Bob Sloan, pastor of Society Hill Presbyterian Church, has to do is deliver them to people around the area who need them. Well, that’s just the physical part. Sloan brings his ministry with the food. People want to talk to him; in a lot of cases, they can’t get out much because of medical problems. And COVID-19 has made things even worse. People want to tell him about their families – births, deaths, divorces. They want his advice, his counsel. They ask him to pray for them. Some ask him to come back tomorrow for more discussion. This is a typical Tuesday for Sloan, pastor of the small, roughly 120-year-old church for about eight years and a newspaperman who served as editor of the Hartsville Messenger for several years. “What I do here is as important as what I do on Sundays,” says Sloan, who also is pastor of a church in Patrick. “What they do, you can’t put words to,” says one man who’s been battling a crippling depression, as he collects two servings for his household. The church’s every-Tuesday food-delivery program is called Manna from Heaven; the church also runs a food pantry called Food for Faith. If you want to be on the Manna from Heaven list, all you need to do is ask, provided you’re not too far away. (A few of Sloan’s deliveries take him into nearby parts of neighboring Chesterfield County.) Today’s meals – with spaghetti as the main course – were fairly easy compared to something more complicated, like “turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes,” says Teresa Hancock of Society Hill, who helps with the food preparation. “Just having to cook things longer.” Hancock says the basic food-delivery program has been operating about 10 years, sometimes more often than once a week, fueled by local donations. Its reach is maybe a seven-to-10 mile radius from the church. It’s an all-day effort if you start the clock from the time the cooking begins. Sloan admits the deliveries could be done faster, but he’s a pastor, not a FedEx driver. “A large part of it is not just the meal, it’s the visit,” Sloan says. “It’s spending time with folks. They want somebody to talk to. When the preacher comes by, they want somebody to talk to.” The congregation of Society Hill Presbyterian is small – about 17 active members. “We are not a large church by any stretch of the imagination,” notes Sloan. But the community pitches in for the food deliveries. “The more we give, the more people give to us to give to others,” Hancock says. Today’s food run begins with a woman in a nearby section of Chesterfield County who’s been getting a weekly meal since she began having a foot problem that made it hard to get out of the house. “I thoroughly enjoy it,” Lois Tucker says of the meal and the visit. “It’s a different routine for me. Most of the time, I use the microwave and whatever. This (meal) is a surprise. You never know what you’re getting.” “It’s communication from the outside,” she said. “With this COVID-19, you don’t have many visitors … but this is my Tuesday visitor.” Another visit takes Sloan to the door of Carroll Freeman, 80, who “had a tough time with cancer.” The weekly meals are literally a godsend for him: “I think they’re great. I appreciate it. I’m glad I’m getting them.” Sloan heads back toward the town of Society Hill to drop in on two elderly sisters, Barbara Teigen and Lula Phillips. (On being sisters: “Mama said we were and Daddy said we’d better be,” one quips.) By now, it’s midafternoon and Sloan is figuring up how many meals he’s delivered: Eleven? Out of 54? But it’s not as bad as it might look, since remaining deliveries are much closer together and since some households might get as many as four meals, not just one, depending on how many residents live there. He thinks he might be done by dark. He might be thinking about the menu for next week already.