In times of need, communities come together to care for their neighbors. Recently, Ford Street United Methodist Church in Lapel, Indiana, joined efforts with a local Pizza Hut franchise to feed students from around the area.

In recent weeks, Gary and Nancy Coomer, owners of Pizza Hut restaurants throughout Madison County and other areas in the U.S., have provided pan pizzas and breadsticks for an average of 100 students per day. (Their original goal was to give out 565 pizzas in total.)

The Coomers share a unique connection to Ford Street UMC. “Nancy is a member, and Nancy’s parents were pillars of Ford Street,” said Rev. Glenn Knepp, Senior Pastor at the church. Due to their relationship, the Coomers regularly share conversations with Glenn about new happenings around the church.

“When this crisis began, the church was in the midst of exploring more missional and contextual ways of doing discipleship in our local restaurants and a local brewery. It [the church] has also been exploring how we can become a better place of welcome for all of the community by expanding our current facility and making room for a new coffee shop ministry. As entrepreneurs, Gary and Nancy love to hear about church happening in these new and innovative ways.”

Naturally, when the pandemic began, the Coomers approached Glenn to see how they could work together to care for those impacted by these unique conditions.

Glenn said, “Gary and Nancy had this idea about a partnership to feed Lapel community kids during spring break when schools wouldn’t be offering any nutritional support.”

Schools were some of the first entities to announce an extensive closure following the mandate from state government to “shelter in place” to help slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus. After Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb extended the lockdown to April 30, many schools, including some colleges, announced that they would not re-open until fall.

This change has impacted families in extraordinary ways. An unfortunate reality for some students includes losing access to their school lunches, something many families rely on, particularly as the impact of the lockdown has led to a historic spike in unemployment across the country.

The partnership between the Coomers and Ford Street UMC came at the perfect time and reflects how more impactful community efforts can be made when people unite and work toward a shared goal. It also reflects how important it is for faith communities to be attuned to the needs of the communities around them, so that they may serve them well.

During an interview with the Anderson Herald Bulletin, Nancy shared, “Pastor Glenn Knepp at Ford Street United Methodist Church found out there were people in need during spring break in Lapel, so we opened the distribution to all elementary students in Lapel.”

Glenn credits the power of partnership for the success of their effort. “Our team is fast and flexible. They put together the web registration and provided volunteers. Gary and Nancy provided pizza, and Jesus brought His light and hope.”

He continued, “We’d been cultivating this kind of relationship for just this kind of unforeseen moment — a moment when people needed the hope of Jesus Christ… and pizza!”

The Coomers have also partnered with the National Guard to help distribute pizza in other areas in Indiana, including Anderson and Alexandria, with plans to deliver in Pendleton and areas in Delaware County. So far they’ve handed out more than 3,000 personal pan pizzas.

With assistance from Elizabeth Cress, a member of the Communications team at Ford Street UMC.