Every Tuesday and Thursday the doors to Mt. Olive are opened and dozens of community members trickle in to enjoy a hot meal and an in-depth Bible Study.
For 18 years, those in need have found a moment of respite at Mt. Olive Baptist Church.
Following the vision of former pastor Maxie Miller, the church united in May 2001 to offer hot lunches twice a week and on holidays for the struggling members of their community. Now, every Tuesday and Thursday, Solomon McKinney drives to Metropolitan Ministries and picks up the fresh food, which was prepared by professional chefs, and drives it back to Plant City to be assembled by a dedicated group of volunteers.
“This started under Pastor Miller. He had such a heart for the needy,” Theodore Taylor, volunteer at the ministry, said. “Feeding others, well, it’s serving a basic everyday need. And of course our Bible Study before, which is optional to attend, helps serve their spiritual needs.”
An average of 50 to 75 people come through the Mt. Olive Baptist Church doors every week and while they commune at tables, discussing their days and sharing stories of mutual friends, they are able to simply take a moment to just be. The people enjoy air conditioning and a nutritious meal. When it begins to wrap up, many root through their bags for bowls and Tupperware in which the leftovers, if there are any, are distributed so they have food going into the weekend. Those who don’t own any containers are given a portion in a takeaway box provided by the church.
Originally the effort was spearheaded by Betty Caw, who served at the helm until her recent passing. She assembled a group of church members who all gladly served until their respective deaths. Taylor is the only founding member of the program that remains and you can find him every Tuesday and Thursday in his dress shirt and tie, reading scripture to those gathered during the Bible study that’s held at 11:55 a.m. prior to the 12:30 p.m. lunch. Once his Bible closes, he turns with a smile and ties an apron around his waist as he joins the other volunteers in handing out the plated meals.
“The Spirit of God is working in this ministry to the point that when Bible study runs past the feeding time, the attendees want to finish the lesson,” Taylor said. “They realize the spiritual food is more important than the physical food. Over the years, we’ve seen so much spiritual growth in our family here. And that’s what we are — we’re a family now.”
Annie Mae Woodard now leads the ministry and, while a few pastors have come through the doors since Mt. Olive first began filling the souls and stomachs of the community, all have stepped behind the project, lending their full support.
Reverend Antonio Wilkerson, who has served as pastor of Mt. Olive for nearly three years, said they gladly open their arms to show love to their neighbors.
After all, scripture repeatedly stresses the importance of spreading love to others. Whether in 1 John 4:11 ESV, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” or Galatians 6:2 NIV, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” the theme of empathy and compassion run through the core of the Gospel.
Wilkerson paused when reflecting on the passion his congregation holds for the ministry before simply asking, “What kind of church would we be if we had no desire to serve our community?”
As long as the ministry continues to help others, Wilkerson said, they will fight to keep it running.
In fact, he said he hoped one day they would be able to grow it even further to extend their reach.
“We’re honored to be able to be a blessing to them,” Wilkerson said. “Before you can help people, you have to have a relationship with them. We know these people, we love these people and, because of that, they allow us the chance to aid their physical needs as well as their spiritual. Regardless of their economic standing, their age, their gender or anything else, we are here for them and we will continue to be there for them in any way we can.”
The church also partners with Metropolitan Ministries to offer a variety of other services, including help obtaining identification cards, connecting them to life skills programs and other vital tools.
Throughout the year, Mt. Olive provides clothing, toiletries and personal hygiene assistance to the community. Loyal attendees of the Bible Study are also frequently given gift cards.
Taylor said he allows the Holy Spirit to guide the scripture they focus on each week, but they frequently will pause to discuss topics like the Fruits of the Spirit, Biblical figures who have strong life lessons tied to their stories or will spend time studying the lessons Jesus taught in the New Testament.
They are a small unit, but Mt. Olive is proving you can change lives if you lead with love.
If you would like to get involved:
Simply pop in to visit Taylor or Wilkerson any Tuesday or Thursday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at Mt. Olive, 604 W. Ball St.