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6/4/97 SBC hunger fund provides hope in rural Tennessee

LAFAYETTE, Tenn. (BP)–Nestled in the scenic foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, one would think the people of Macon County, Tenn., would enjoy a carefree existence. But the closing of several factories and the struggles in agriculture have placed this tranquil setting under the strain of an 11.3 percent unemployment rate — one of the highest in the state.
And recent changes in entitlement programs on the state and national levels threaten to place even more citizens of this rural community in desperate straits.
While residents of the county sponsored a local food and clothing bank known as Macon Helps, in recent years it had become inactive and its setting outside of town makes it inaccessible to many locals.
Realizing the growing needs of the community, area churches became determined to be more involved. With the election of five area pastors to the agency’s board of directors, a singular vision to aid the county’s less fortunate began to unfold. The pastors, two of them Southern Baptist, were no strangers to teamwork, having labored together for years on other community projects.
Less than a year after the vision realized, Macon Helps dedicated a new facility located one block from the square in the county seat town of Lafayette May 29, spurred by a gift from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
The thrift store and food bank occupy an abandoned storefront which has been remodeled.
“This looks more like a JC Penney’s than a thrift store,” noted Doyle Gaines, an executive with Macon County government and a member of the town’s First Baptist Church. “It is very impressive, a facility the whole community can be proud of.”
“Southern Baptists have been a driving force in seeing this happen,” added Randy Roper, pastor of the New Life Community Baptist Church. “The grant from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund given by the Home Mission Board will greatly enhance our ability to meet the needs of people who come to us for help.”
Hubert Cunningham, director of Macon Helps, and pastor of the Lafayette United Methodist Church, said, “With economic hard times and welfare reform, we saw an opportunity for the church to be the church as it was meant to be. We are here to reach out in compassion to those in need and to offer them the bread of life as in Matthew 25. Every person who comes here receives a list of churches and is told that we do what we do in Jesus’ name. They are encouraged to seek out a church home.”
Cunningham said the blend of denominations is not a hindrance as “we are here to promote salvation through Jesus Christ and Christian values.”
A single mother recently came to the center expressing hope she could make the transition from welfare to work. According to Cunningham, “She had a job interview lined up but did not have appropriate clothing or cosmetics. We arranged for her to get her hair done and got her some clothing. She got the job and is now self-supporting. It is amazing what just a little compassion does for a person’s self-esteem.”
Future plans include the remodeling of the back portion of the building to serve as emergency housing. A grant has been secured through the state to help with the cost of renovation. Yet Cunningham is quick to point out while the group has accepted government money, “We make it clear that we will accept nothing that in any way inhibits us from sharing the gospel.”

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  • Steven S. Nelson