YULEE–Once a predominantly rural area, Yulee has become a fast-growing bedroom community of Jacksonville as new residential subdivisions and communities are popping up along the winding country roads in this Nassau County town.
But even as this new growth overwhelms the region, hunger continues to be a reality. According to Feeding America Research, the percentage of food insecure children in Nassau County is 19.6 percent, or about 1 in 5 children who regularly go to bed hungry or are unsure when their next meal will be.
Yulee Baptist Church is helping tackle this issue, providing a robust, on-going food ministry to aid their community.
“We are the only food pantry in our vicinity that is open every week,” said Pastor Doug Sides, who has led the 400-membered Yulee church for the past 9 years. The church’s food pantry serves residents in Yulee, Fernandina, Callahan, Hilliard and all of Nassau County.
Begun in 2010 as a response to those in need during the economic recession, the food closet occupied one small room on a church hallway with one shelf of food and served 200 people that first year.
That small closet has since blossomed into a food ministry that now fills a separate building the church purchased and called The Ministry Place.
In 2019 the church provided food to nearly 16,000 neighbors, representing 4,569 families, and of those families, 4,657 were children. They also assisted 2,715 disabled folks and 858 veterans.
“We help anyone; if they say they need help, we do our best to help them,” said Sides. That help includes clothes as The Ministry Place maintains a stocked clothes closet.
A dozen volunteers are needed to operate the ministry, with six volunteers on-site when it is open. When a person arrives seeking assistance, a volunteer obtains basic information, talking with them about their needs. Help is based on the number of people residing in their home.
Along with physical needs, spiritual needs are also being met, said Sides. “We have led many people to the Lord, seen them baptized and come into church membership.”
Most of the food for the pantry comes from Feeding America, the nation’s largest, domestic hunger relief organization.
The church voted unanimously this month to purchase a $40,000 box truck to make trips to Jacksonville where the Northeast Florida Food Bank is located. “Now volunteers can pick up food more efficiently, making one trip instead of three,” said the pastor.
The church’s ministry statement, “sharing God’s love in word and deed,” is exemplified not only through The Ministry Place, but through multiple ministries designed to meet community needs.
The congregation participates with an interdenominational ministry, Gracie’s Kitchen, that provides a hot cooked meal four nights a week at a local school. Yulee church members cook and provide a meal once a month.
In addition, for the past eight years, the deacons at Yulee Baptist Church have cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal–turkey with all the traditional fixings–for shut-ins in the community, preparing and delivering a dozen of these meals in 2019. And through the church’s food pantry, about 50 Thanksgiving baskets were prepared for residents to take home and cook themselves.
In October during the church’s annual fall festival, the church distributes coats and blankets to the community. Furthermore, with the permission of Nassau County officials, the church builds wheelchair ramps for handicapped residents; in 2019 they provided the materials and built six ramps.
“We’re an active little church!” exclaims Sides.
“Yulee Baptist Church has done an amazing job impacting the community,” said Craig Culbreth, Catalyst, East Region, Florida Baptist Convention. “I love how Pastor Doug is always thinking of ways to show people the love of Jesus.”