FULTON, Mo. -- When New Beginnings Church of Christ's food pantry burned in September, volunteer Linda Roots' heart ached.
"I saw the smoke as I was driving into town," she said.
She and other members of the Fulton Court Street United Methodist Church are filling the gap. Since November, the church has hosted a mobile food pantry on the third Friday of the month, from 2-4 p.m. in the parking lot behind the church at 719 Court St.
The church's food pantry involvement started last year during Lent, when Pastor Rebecca Peak walked Court Street and St. James UMC through "Holding Up Your Corner" by Pastor F. Willis Johnson. Johnson preaches in Ferguson, and his book teaches pastors to address injustices and oppressive systems in their communities, especially relating to race.
"At the end of the study, you were supposed to be called to some kind of action," Roots said. "A lot of people were interested in food insecurity."
After doing research, the group learned Fulton didn't need another food pantry. However, New Beginnings' food pantry — open weekly at the time — could always use volunteers, she said.
"New Beginnings sometimes had as many as 200 families," she added.
Helping at the food pantry proved a great experience for some church members, including Roots. When she learned New Beginnings didn't plan to restart the ministry, she began talking to The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri about its mobile food pantry option.
The Columbia-based food bank supplies food to about 140 pantries and other partner agencies across 32 counties. As a large agency, the bank can work directly with wholesalers, growers, retailers and other businesses to secure food at lowered costs. Its website, sharefoodbringhope.org, claims The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri can turn a donated dollar into $21 of food.
The truck made its first visit just before Thanksgiving, and about 100 families showed up, Roots said. Before Christmas, that number doubled.
"Just working with the people who receive the food does your heart good," said Linda Mealy, co-coordinator of Mission (Court Street UMC's outreach department).
Peak said many recipients become volunteers themselves.
"Sometimes (clients will) encounter produce they've never seen before, such as acorn squash a couple months ago," she said. "The clients were giving out recipe ideas to each other. It's great."
Debbie Wilson, of Williamsburg, stopped by to pick up food Friday.
"My granddaughter saw it on Facebook," she said.
She was excited to see fresh fruit and vegetables in her box, including some sweet canary melons.
Wilson is on a fixed income and said her food stamps have been cut this year.
"I think this food pantry is awesome, especially since we lost the other one," she said.
To help better fill the community's needs, church leaders agreed to install a permanent food pantry at Court Street UMC. The food pantry likely will be located in the Fellowship Hall and, at least at first, will be open on the third Friday of each month, Peak said. The church is still working to acquire a cooler and freezer.
Roots said they hope to have it open by April.
"Volunteer opportunities are available," Peak said. "We'll need help distributing the food and also picking it up from Columbia."