It starts with thousands of potatoes that were dropped on the parking lot at Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, on a chilly Saturday morning in January.
The potatoes were gleaned by the Society of St. Andrew, which redistributes produce that would otherwise end up in landfill, so that it can be used to feed the poor.
The Society of St. Andrew salvages tractor-trailer loads of potatoes and other produce that are rejected by commercial markets due to slight imperfections in size, shape, sugar content, or surface blemishes.
Missional churches like Concord agree to bag up the potatoes and quickly get them to food pantries or soup kitchens throughout their area.
And that’s where we come in.
We are a small group of United Methodists from different churches (a few of us have no church home) who meet monthly to prepare a dinner party at Norwood United Methodist Church. A mix of about 50 people from different backgrounds attend every month.
As a mission project for our dinner party group, we had the idea get some of the sweet potatoes and cook them up for an east Knoxville church that feeds 100 to 150 of their hungry neighbors every Monday at noon.
We asked Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church if we could help them by making sweet potato casseroles for their meal, using the potatoes we got from Concord.
They said yes!
So on a Sunday afternoon, six people met at Norwood to peel 130 pounds of potatoes.
The initial work went quickly with 12 hands. As Mike, Daniel, Alana, Cindy and I peeled, Marci went to work on the slicing.
We kept several pots boiling, moving the cooked potatoes over to a big bowl where they were whipped and doctored with butter, brown sugar, chopped pecans and spices.
We had a big discussion about whether to use marshmallows and then decided we had to. It’s the Southern way.
We didn’t finish baking and melting the marshmallows but saved that for Magnolia.
On Monday morning at 10 a.m., Marci delivered the six casserole pans to Magnolia. At noon, Mike and I went to Magnolia to visit with the servers and the diners.
Matt, the head of the volunteer team, is a member at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. He said that “Monday is the best day of the week.” He clearly loves his ministry.
Marci’s casserole recipe was a hit, it seemed. The Magnolia volunteers had planned a meal of chicken strips, green beans, rolls and cookies to accompany our dish.
We had saved our potato peelings to give to the Knoxville Zoo, to feed some of the animals. But the zoo didn’t need the peels on this particular day. So we were thrilled to learn that Tabernacle Christian Academy was on the premises to give away free eggs and produce from their farm.
Mike helped Dita from the academy load up the peels for the pigs.
So our connectional sweet potatoes had a great journey! And we have enough potatoes left to do another batch of casseroles soon.
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