Oklahoma Church-Community Partnership Tackles Local Poverty

Church and community partner to form organization that seeks to give people a hand up, not a handout.

A young mother stood in the lobby of Asbury United Methodist Church (UMC) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, talking quietly with her young son as she waited for the doors to open. This was opening day for Restore Hope South Tulsa, and this mother, along with countless others in line, was here for a bit of food and a lot of hope.

A partnership between Restore Hope Ministries and Asbury UMC, Restore Hope South Tulsa is a food pantry designed to fight hunger and homelessness in the area. With an affluent membership and average weekly attendance of 1,900, Asbury UMC aspires to give people a hand up instead of a handout.

Asbury UMC embraces an asset-based, community-development approach, which involves taking inventory of a neighborhood, school or church, and then marrying those assets together. That’s why the food pantry was so vital to the strategic development of Asbury’s local outreach. While Asbury pastors and their local outreach teams were assessing the neighborhood, the needs became crystal clear. With more than 60 percent of the neighborhood’s school-aged children eligible for free or reduced lunches, the local school district was sinking deep into poverty. In addition, 90 percent of the students at Grove Elementary, the church’s adopted neighborhood elementary school, are poverty-stricken.

“We can volunteer and mentor all day long, but if the students are hungry, they won’t be able to grasp concepts for learning,” says Radhika Aussieker, local outreach director at Asbury UMC. “By meeting their basic needs, we hope to gain access to their hearts spiritually. We want students to know that Jesus loves them.”

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Rev. Jeff Jaynes, executive director of Restore Hope Ministries, is optimistic about the future. “I look forward to watching how our partnership will bless our neighbors and so many more,” he says.

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