Agape Food Bank serves hundreds monthly

Tuesday, February 1, 2011
At one time only a handful of volunteers were needed to keep pace with food distribution at the Bethel Agape Food Bank. Now, a dozen or more show up each Wednesday to help. Pictured here were (from left) Herman Fryar, Doyle Lynch, Jim Goins, Charles Bell, Patty Villines, Deborah Spate, Tim McKinney, Ruth Goins, Janet Bell, Al Fryar, Cathy Miranda, Kevin Bailey and Barbara Lynch. Anna Mathews / CCN

GREEN FOREST -- Not long ago, in a tiny house next to the old Bethel Baptist Church, there were a few volunteers who handed out food commodities to families that had fallen on hard times.

They numbered about a dozen back then, the families who came once a month seeking assistance.

That was back in 1997, when Cathy Miranda and Barbara Lynch started the Bethel Agape Food Bank with Bro. Ray Edwards, who was pastor of Bethel Baptist at the time.

They would never have guessed what was to come.

Now, 14 years later, that tiny house has been replaced by a large new building where hundreds of families come to get their allotment of food each month.

There are so many families that food distribution days are scheduled four times a month.

"We've grown a lot," said Barbara. "We started out with maybe 10 families. When we moved from the little house into the new building three years ago, people saw we had a bigger place and more food. Then we really started growing."

"And, we keep growing," confirmed Cathy. "We now average 345 families a month.

"We initially grew by word of mouth," she said. "Now, there's a greater need, with the downturn in the economy, more people moving in and more people living together."

Their food comes from the Arkansas Rice Depot, the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank and from retailers, such as Harps grocery in Green Forest, which donates bread products.

They also receive some monetary donations from businesses, churches, and individuals.

One of their supporters, said Cathy, is Living Word Fellowship. "They are a big help -- financially," she said. In addition, Living Word sends over two volunteers each week to help with the distribution process.

Bethel Baptist and Grandview Baptist are also supporters, she said, along with Green Forest Schools, which hosts a canned food drive prior to Thanksgiving each year.

This past Thanksgiving, she noted, they were able to hand out 252 Thanksgiving baskets. "We did well," she beamed. At Christmas, candy bags were distributed as a special treat.

No one is turned away, Cathy said. Their intent is to serve the people of Carroll County who come from all parts of the county, but they do get a few from Harrison, in Boone County.

Those who show a Carroll County address and meet income criteria receive a different allotment, she said, because of USDA guidelines which they must follow and document as a USDA distributor.

"We keep records," confirmed Cathy. "We report monthly to three agencies. We report numbers -- not names."

"We don't give money, just food," explained Barbara, "so we don't turn anyone away. Besides, it's from God, not us."

"We're here once a week, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays," Cathy said. "People need to show identification and let us know how many are in their family. They can come only once a month. We're here to help them get through the rough spots."

Cathy and Barbara know about the rough spots. They've had some of their own.

"We've had situations," Barbara confirmed, "when we were running out of food and didn't know where it would come from. We had a need and it was filled. It happens time and time again."

"If you have faith -- and it's meant to be -- it comes," added Cathy.

Anyone who wants to help can volunteer by calling Cathy at (870) 480-3250. They can also send money to P.O. Box 437, Green Forest, Ar 72638, in care of Bethel Baptist Church.

"We've been blessed the last few years," Cathy noted. "We built the building when we outgrew the little house and when the stock gets low -- God provides.

"It's been a blessing in a myriad of ways," she reflected. "It's taught me about people and gave me a greater understanding."

Barbara agreed, adding, "It's something God has placed here. We just take part in what he has planned."

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