A PLACE AT MARY'S TABLE
Where it All Started
The simple spiritual practice of hospitality and service at Mary's Table teaches us always to have our lives and homes open to those who have needs, and to encourage those who benefit from such generosity to do the same.
A Place at Mary's Table provides key help to hungry women and children through one of our Center Peace Initiatives. I frequently visited Hollis and Mary Shirley, the parents of a beloved mentor Jakie Shirley, when I was serving as a young pastor in Big Spring, Texas, in the mid-1980s. My visits often occurred around the noon hour after I had made nearby hospital visits. I would find Mary preparing lunch in the kitchen. I could not help but notice that she always set an extra place at the table and, when I asked her about this practice, she told me that her father had taught her to include an extra place at the table for an unexpected guest. Mary made a habit of caring for the hungry, which is good manners and good theology (Mark 6:37; John 6:32, 35). Mary's example inspires me to this day to feed the less fortunate.
The Enormous Need
Together hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide and riveted to poverty. Here in America, 42.2 million individuals, 13.1 million of them children, live without adequate daily food. Nearly 18% of homes in Texas are food insecure, meaning "consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year." Amazingly, 22% of children in the state of Texas under the age of 18 are food insecure!
The Big Challenge
Our study of those with food needs helped us to determine that there were some specific things that we could do to provide assistance to those that live at or below the poverty level. With hunger in mind, I asked Shawna Ashlock to rise to an incredible challenge. She already felt compassion for the hungry, so I encouraged her to take on a tough assignment. I asked her to find a way to feed women and their families an evening meal for one week on less than $65. Then, I asked her to personally teach women in food insecure households how to cook healthy meals. She rose to the challenge and the results have far exceeded our wildest dreams.
What Mary’s Table Looks Like
Mary's Table has a primary goal to offer God's whole peace (shalom) to women that have needs. Our method is to offer a "dignity-based" ministry, which allows us to touch individual lives personally. There are many wonderful large-scale ministries to the hungry, but we practice the simple hospitality of Mary Shirley at the table. We partner with Mission Arlington, to invite 10 women to attend a cooking class where Shawna teaches ways to prepare, cook, and present healthy, home-cooked meals. Then we sit down with the women and eat what they have prepared. We spend precious moments listening to their needs, and then we pray for them. The women leave blessed.
There is more! Shawna has compiled easy-to-make recipes into a recipe book that we provide as a gift to the women. We supply a week's supply of groceries (2 boxes) filled with healthy food items. Various WMU groups across Texas sew aprons that we give to the women. Many of these dear souls have never owned an apron, and their joy is evident when they receive them. We have even received donations of honey from a most generous beekeeper to place in their boxes! Afterward, we invite the women to carry on the mission of Mary's Table by keeping their homes open, no matter how poor they might be, to help others in need.
By the Numbers
- At each Mary's Table, each household receives 70 items of food, in the categories of canned, boxed, and other packaged goods, frozen meat and vegetables, dairy items, fresh produce, and bread.
- Each participant receives 98 pounds of groceries, which are packed into two large boxes and loaded into her vehicle.
- Each Mary's Table, we purchase, sort, pack, and load 1,077 pounds of food items.
- Since we began, the Mary's Table ministry has now distributed more than 8 tons of food.
- Each woman participant also receives an apron, made with love by the Texas WMU, and a recipe book filled with healthy menu items for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks
- Our Mary’s Table Ministry costs approximately $7200 per year.
HOW CAN I BE INVOLVED?
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