By Greg Gelpi
In its version of the Bible story of the loaves of bread and fish, Shiloh Baptist Church, a small Jonesboro congregation, is opening its doors to feed the community.
As part of the church's outreach ministry, Shiloh welcomes all members of the community for free food and fellowship monthly.
"We're trying to reach those people who have a need," said Cleothra Rhodes, the president of the church's missions ministry. That need may be for food, but may also be a need for community, a need to be loved.
Dorothy Jones, a senior citizen from Riverdale, said the program gives her plenty of food that's "nourishing and nutritious," but the food is only one reason why she attends. The other is the people.
"That's the main thing is the fellowship, just to get out of the house," Jones said, adding that it's better than eating at home by herself.
She brought fellow Riverdale resident Bobbie Parham with her to the meal this week. Parham agreed that "everything is good" from the Salisbury steak dinner to mingling with others.
"We're trying to fellowship with the neighborhood," Charlotte Johnson, the head cook, said. That neighborhood stretches beyond the church walls and into the county.
"Shiloh is a church where we care about the community," Johnson said. "Some of these people may not sit with others for an entire month."
After undergoing a quadruple bypass, she said she was thankful that God brought her back to life and wanted to use her new health to serve God.
"I had a need to serve in any way I could, and I love to cook," Johnson said. "What do I get out of it? Joy. Just joy."
The outreach feeds the "whole body," she said, explaining that church members often feed the spirits of visitors by providing a friendly ear, literature about church services and a smile.
"It's not banging you over the head with the Word of God," Johnson said.
Shiloh Baptist provides the free meal at 11:30 a.m. on the last Tuesday of each month and gives away bread from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday, said Rhodes.
"It's just what the Lord wants us to do," she said.
Rhodes said local grocery stores and bread companies donate some of the food, but the church carries much of the financial burden. She added that the volunteers, though, are what enable the church to minister to the community.
"It's just a good feeling," Rhodes said. "Everyone says I light up when I talk about this."
Shiloh also ministers to those in jail and to those in nursing homes, she said.