First Baptist Church opens doors to feed the hungry with The Alley

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When The Alley needed a kitchen to feed the hungry, First Baptist Church in Seymour opened its doors and welcomed them.

There was no hesitation or long discussions on how it was going to work. The two churches came together and made it happen.

"It was just the right thing to do," said the Rev. Jeremy Myers, lead pastor at First Baptist.

Now, less than two months later, an average of 50 people make their way to First Baptist Church’s fellowship hall every weekday afternoon for a free hot meal from The Alley. Some days, it’s more.

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"It made perfect sense. We had the space, and they needed it," Myers said. "There was no way we were going to say no."

But the relationship isn’t one-sided, as each church fills a need in the other.

"We don’t have the relational capital that they do, but we do have hard capital," Myers said. "We each have something the other needs. I think First Baptist needs The Alley just as much as The Alley at this point needs First Baptist. It’s truly a symbiotic relationship."

On Wednesdays, First Baptist has its weekly church dinner. On that day, First Baptist prepares the meal for both groups, and the meal times often overlap, bringing the congregations together.

Linda Wayman is the Wednesday night dinner coordinator and the kitchen manager at First Baptist.

"Dr. Myers came to me and asked me what I thought about The Alley coming here," she said. "I’ve always felt like my gift God has given me was servanthood, so I said, ‘I’m on board. Let’s go for it.’"

First Baptist was familiar with The Alley in a couple of ways. First off, its youth group had been serving meals at The Alley for years, said Sara Bowling, The Alley Kitchen manager. Bowling also attends First Baptist.

Another way the churches were connected was through Myers, who came to First Baptist in 2017. He has preached at The Alley several times.

"I’ve always felt very at home with them and enjoyed speaking there and felt very free to engage them on a very personal level," he said of The Alley. "I mean, I’m a Baptist preacher with tattoos and piercings."

Myers is passionate about mission work and community outreach, and that has spread throughout First Baptist Church, Wayman said.

"That is what our church is trying to focus on more," she said.

Being able to help The Alley is an opportunity to carry out God’s work and share his love, she said.

"We want to be a church where mission is more than a word, more than something we throw money at, but mission is something we do and actively are in the community," she said.

The Alley is an example of what all churches should strive to be like, Myers said.

"They are aligned on who we need to be as a church," he said. "We want to be a church that is about a cause, that is about affecting positive change in our community, not just a building on the corner that is a historical landmark.

"I don’t want us to just be First Baptist Church in Seymour," he added. "I want us to be First Baptist Church for Seymour. Part of that is getting beyond ourselves, reaching out and utilizing our resources to help those that God brings into our path."

Myers admits he expected some pushback from the congregation, but that hasn’t been the case.

There were also initial concerns with transportation and whether people from The Alley would feel comfortable in a more traditional church setting, but those worries proved to be unfounded, too.

"It has pretty much been about the same," Bowling said of the number of people eating meals daily.

The Alley van continues to transport residents to First Baptist, and Seymour Public Transportation also is being utilized. Many of those who used to walk to The Alley’s former meal site on East Second Street now ride bicycles.

Although the kitchen setup is temporary as The Alley renovates its new location in the former Save-A-Lot building on the west side of Seymour, Myers said First Baptist doesn’t plan to close the doors on their brothers and sisters in Christ.

"They can stay as long as they want," he said.

That’s a huge relief for Bowling and her staff of volunteers. Although Bowling said she puts her faith in God to provide for The Alley, she can’t help but worry about the future and the people who rely on the church.

"We’re still in those moments where we have a lot of decisions to make," she said.

Ninety percent of the food for the meals is donated, with businesses such as The Pines, Pizza Palace and Schneck Medical Center contributing leftover food and area churches giving a monthly tithe to keep The Alley Kitchen up and running.

The Alley also operates a food pantry.

"We go to the food bank twice a month," Bowling said.

Tina Fleetwood, who sits on The Alley’s board of directors, said church leaders are in contact with contractors to renovate the Save-A-Lot building, but it’s not going to come cheap.

"The few that we’ve talked to are very high dollar," she said. "We do have one contractor who’s willing to donate a lot of his labor if we can get people in there to help."

Although they can’t prepare and serve meals there yet, The Alley is using the building for its weekly worship services on Friday nights, Celebrate Recovery and youth group meetings.

Since the church isn’t planning on being in the Save-A-Lot building forever, it makes it even more difficult to figure out what to do, Fleetwood said.

"We don’t want to put in $100,000 for something that’s temporary," she said.

But in the meantime, Fleetwood said The Alley is appreciative of all First Baptist is doing to help.

"They truly are a blessing to us and to the community," she said.

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