Twenty years ago, a very special ministry began at Schweitzer as two leaders, Ed Hewlett and Roger Tunks, were burdened by the needs of the Springfield community and specifically people who lacked food in their homes. The ministry started with humble beginnings, as a few volunteers served food from a small pantry space near the gym. Guests would drive up to receive a sack or two of groceries from a roll-up door. They would receive prayer and encouragement and were invited into a deeper relationship with God and the church.
Since that time, much has changed, but the heart to serve our community has remained. On September 30, Schweitzer will join together with Flourish Community Development Corporation to recognize this tenured ministry as we host a 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Old Glass Place in Springfield. This will be a night to remember!
Here in 2023, the Food Pantry at Schweitzer is much easier to find, and operates as part of the ministries of Flourish. Between January and July this year, the Pantry served 4,612 guests on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dedicated volunteers serve in various ways each week as part of this ongoing ministry.
DECADE ONE: 2003-2013
During the first ten years, the Schweitzer Food Pantry focused on serving the basic needs of the Springfield community. Volunteers also found ways to serve outside the Ozarks, providing food for disaster relief teams who traveled to Mississippi and Louisiana for hurricane relief support. During the 2007 ice storm, Schweitzer housed 150 people in the Gym for more than a week. It’s been said that Ed Hewlett’s breakfasts of biscuits and gravy were so good, guests didn’t want to leave.
In 2009, Schweitzer forfeited cash generated from renting space to a car dealership to relocate both the Food Pantry and the Schweitzer offices – allowing the Preschool area to expand. This change was a turning point for the church and Food Pantry. Rev. Robert (Bob) Casady, who served as the lead pastor during that time, shared. “The move was providential, allowing the church to serve the community in crisis. If memory serves, we topped over 13,000 guests one year during the peak of the Great Recession.”
When the Joplin tornado hit in 2011, Schweitzer loaded up the “A Church That Serves” truck with hot dogs and water for emergency relief workers.
FROM CHRONIC TO CRISIS
In the midst of serving the community, Schweitzer’s leadership also began to sense there was a need to help people at a deeper level. In 2012, Pastor Jason Leininger launched a “Skunkworks” team that would shift the mission and impact of the food pantry. This new mission was to share Christ’s love while providing emergency food and spiritual support. This meant providing opportunities for job training, mentoring, transitional housing, and spiritual guidance in addition to food.
Within this season, the Food Pantry expanded warehouse space, deepened the prayer ministry, and strengthened partnerships with other local ministries in new ways. Today, the Schweitzer Food Pantry provides food to guests each week on Schweitzer’s campus and also shares resources with ten other ministries throughout Southwest Missouri.
On Saturday, September 30, Schweitzer and Flourish will celebrate all that God has done! We hope you’ll join us for a special night of reflection, laughter, and inspiration.
Purchase tickets to the 20th Anniversary Celebration
Learn more about Flourish at flourishcdc.org
Following Jesus, Flourish STANDS with neighbors in need, pursues HEALING through relationships of reconciliation, and INVESTS in economic and leadership development.