by Sabah Ismail
The Unitarian Universalist Church is a denomination of Christianity that truly molds its entire belief system around the idea of “loving thy neighbor.” Their focus on this teaching causes them to fully embrace the idea of completely accepting others, as well as helping them in any way they can. One of the ways that the Little Rock congregation exemplifies this ideal is by volunteering with the Stephens Food Pantry. In this era of social distancing, I was able to speak with Nell Matthews, a leader in the congregation who works closely with the program, which has continued to operate with even greater urgency than before.
The Stephens Food Pantry works in tandem with Stephens Elementary School. On every Friday during the past three school years, volunteers have distributed food to those in need. The Unitarian Universalists work with the Arkansas Food Bank in order to get the supplies used in the pantry, which includes various kinds of fresh produce and meats. After recording the names, ages, total number of family members, employment, and veteren status, people are free to take a reusable bag and select the foods that they want for the week. When the school closed due to Covid-19, the volunteers adapted by using premade boxes of emergency food that were provided by the Arkansas Food Bank. These boxes can be picked up every Friday in the school’s parking lot, which allows people to still get vital supplies while also continuing to safely social distance.
When initially starting the Stephens Food Pantry, the congregation immediately raised twice the amount of money that was requested, allowing it to continue running smoothly much beyond what was originally anticipated. As well, they are currently asking the Walmart Foundation for a grant through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance for enough money to start giving weekly distributions over the summer, rather than stopping when the school year ends. While speaking about how the pandemic has affected the money given towards the Stephens Food Pantry, Matthews said, “I anticipate that even if our budget is hurting, if I make a special plea to the congregation, ‘These are the social action things that we want to continue to do but we can only do if you can make an extra gift,’ that people will respond.” These words perfectly summarize the type of generosity that the Unitarian Universalist Church promotes among its members.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock is located at 1818 Reservoir Road, Little Rock, Arkansas. If you would like to learn more about Unitarian Universalists, you can visit their website at http://www.uuclr.org or call (501) 225-1503. You do not have to be a member of the church to help at the Stephens Food Pantry, so if you would like to get involved with volunteering you can find more information and sign up at http://www.uuclr.org/faithaction/FIA_backpack.html!