LOOK AROUND the grocery store today andsee bewildered faces in every aisle. Buggies once packed to the brim are now carefully curated from half-empty shelves. Coupons and calculators are in hand. Many are forced to choose medicines over meat for their meals.
We don’t have to google the consumer price index or rate of inflation to know the cost of groceries is increasing faster than the average family can manage. Families that are already struggling are even more devastated. Everyone is impacted, but children and the elderly are most vulnerable.
Merriam-Webster defines food insecurity as being unable to consistently access or afford adequate food, and according to feedingamerica.org, in 2017, 4,160 Lincoln County residents, or 12.4% of its population, were food insecure. By 2020, the number had grown to 4,500, or 13.2% of the local population. Even without 2022 data, the definition of food insecurity tells us that it is surely rising, along with the prices of groceries, utilities, and basic necessities.
Tina Hudson recognized the need for assistance with basic needs and felt called to serve her community. Her work, which began in 2006 as a ministry of Hope Assembly of God/Hope Church, led to the formation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Hands of Mercy Outreach Center (HOMOC). She saw the need for a program that helped people out of situations that kept them returning to various food programs rather than enabling them.
Hudson said, “When I started, I went out and presented to the churches, the call that I felt God had given me, asking them to help support it financially. The community responded very, very well. We truly couldn’t do what we do without their support in a lot of different ways. But obviously, it takes money to run things. And we were blessed with a building when we first opened up and began with community food and clothing assistance, although we’re no longer doing clothing.
“Our basic goal is to just love on our community and share Jesus. That was the heart of starting HOMOC. We do have stipulations. Sometimes you have to turn people away that you don’t want to, but I always tell people that even if we have to turn them away, we still love them and care about them. We must have some parameters to ensure we are the best stewards of what God’s given us. Our main goal is to point others toward Him and share it enough that they hopefully pass it on to people in their circle.”
Clients are required to provide proof of residency in Lincoln County and proof of income. Food is available through HOMOC once a month. Some assistance with utilities is also available. The center is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays for this purpose. In addition to their regular food bank, a weekend feeding program called Bags of Blessings supplies food-insecure children in county and city schools with food for the weekend.
“Unfortunately, almost one in four children in our community are considered food insecure, which means they go home on Fridays and don’t know if there’s going to be food in their home for them to eat over the weekend. As a child, that’s one thing the child shouldn’t have to worry about,” said Hudson.
With higher prices and supply shortages, the food available to HOMOC fluctuates. Donations of staples like peanut butter, spaghetti sauce and noodles, saltine crackers, and macaroni and cheese are always appreciated.
HOMOC has recently partnered with the South Pittsburg, Tennessee chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace to build and provide beds and bedding for children ages 3-17 that currently have no bed of their own. Twin bedding sets are always needed. Remember the range of ages served, and children love character bedding. If you’d like to sponsor a bed or provide a mattress, the total cost per bed is approximately $250, and a mattress can be purchased for $65.
HOMOC also sponsors holiday meals, angel trees, and various other projects.
Hudson said, “We’re always waiting for God to open more doors to help families in the community. It’s an honor and a pleasure to get to serve the community. It’s great to know you’re doing what God created you to do in this life.” GN