Finding A Way to Serve Through COVID-19

By LORETTA FULTON

Schools, restaurants, gyms, even beauty and barber shops, were shut down, at least temporarily, by COVID-19, but one area of life never ceased–ministry.

People with few resources need to eat, find clothing, and a place to sleep no matter the circumstances. So, when City Light Community Ministries suspended its Culinary Academy in the spring, a decision was made to continue serving the community, just in a different way. The Culinary Academy opened in May 2019 as a part of First Baptist Church’s City Light Community Ministries, led by John Moore. 

“Thank You Meals” were born as a way to continue a community ministry, even with classes shut down. It’s not the only way that City Light Community Ministries has found to continue serving in the face of a pandemic.

“We continue to do hot meals out the front doors,” Moore said, “family food boxes out the back door, and ‘Thank You Meals’ from next door.”

The most recent recipients of the meals were officers of the Abilene Police Department, who received meals over two days, July 29-30, to accommodate day and night shifts.

Sandy Davis, Caitlin Wallace, and Kayleen Mills, left to right, prepare “Thank You Meals” for Abilene Police Department. Photo by Loretta Fulton

Police Chief Stan Standridge noted that police officers deal with less then 10 percent of the population who commit more than 90 percent of the crimes. That lays a foundation for cynicism and distrust, Standridge said in an email, “But not in Abilene,” where the public and officers are committed to mutual respect and trust built through strong community relations.

“We thank First Baptist for bridging the gap,” Standridge wrote. “Through an intentional act (feeding us), they remind us that we are better together.”

Chef Kayleen Mills, who heads up the Culinary Academy, and Caitlin Wallace, a part-time employee started preparing the meals in April for essential workers in Abilene. APD received meals Wednesday and Thursday, July 29-30. Mills, Wallace, and a volunteer, Sandy Davis, prepared enough chicken salad, made with fresh ingredients in the church’s kitchen, to feed an army, or at least a police department.

“We’re trying to make them big and hearty,” Mills said on Wednesday morning. 

The 250 sandwiches, made with buns that the crew baked, were packed into to-go boxes, along with a pickle spear, container of grapes, homemade chocolate chip cookie, and bag of chips. On Wednesday, 175 boxes were taken to the police department in time to feed lunch to the day shift. The night shift got 75 “Thank You Meals” on Thursday.

The attempt to make the sandwiches “big and hearty” succeeded. Beth Reeves, city chaplain, said in an email that the meals were “nutritious as well as delicious.” City Light Community Ministries continues to bless the community, Reeves noted, and prepared meals for the police department’s telecommunicators earlier this year. 

“We are grateful for the generosity of this community agency,” Reeves wrote. 

One of the people preparing the meals for the police officers was the first winner of Chopped, a popular show on the Food Network. Sandy Davis, who grew up in Stamford, works for a caterer in New York City. The business is temporarily closed, and Davis is staying with his mother in Abilene, waiting out COVID-19. He hopes to return to NYC and his job by Labor Day. 

Davis volunteered last week with the meal preparation. Davis and Mills formerly taught classes at TSTC’s culinary arts school in Abilene before it closed.

The police officers were the latest group of essential workers to be served “Thanks You Meals.”
Other essential workers fed so far are from both local hospitals, the county jail, police telecommunicators, health department employees, and the city’s information technology department. 

No matter who gets the meals, the routine is pretty much the same each week. The Culinary Academy folks do the prep work on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday mornings are for getting it all together.

“Today’s pretty much assembly and get it out,” Mills said on Wednesday, July 29. 

The boxed lunches were packed into a van and driven to the Abilene Police Department before noon Wednesday. At the police station, officers unloaded the boxes and carried them inside.

Mills and others associated with the Culinary Academy also have been using the shutdown period to assess the program and plan how to move forward. They have been keeping track of graduates and also the four students who were in the class when it shutdown. The good news is that they haven’t lost interest.

“They’re very interested in resuming,” Mills said. 

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