Central Baptist 150th anniversary brings community together in service

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Apr 6, 2019 at 8:22 PM

One hundred and fifty years, 575 volunteers, 150,000 meals packed for local people at risk of going hungry.

Those were the key numbers celebrated Saturday in a community-wide service project organized by Central Baptist Church to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary.

Jeff Keller, project manager for the meal-packing project held Saturday at Carver Recreation Center, said Central Baptist wanted to mark its milestone with something more than a big cake. Its 150th anniversary coincides with the sesquicentennial of the the city where it held its first services in 1869.

What the church decided, he said, was to pack meals for the hungry and to include the entire community in the project in recognition of the strength and the impact that has been made by the city’s faith community.

With April being the month designated for recognition of the faith community in Johnson City’s yearlong sesquicentennial celebration, the date was set. And with the ambitious 150,000-meal goal to meet, Keller said, “we needed a lot of help.”

Operation In As Much, a faith-based organization that helps churches mobilize people to help their communities, came on board to facilitate the project.

And when the recruiting was done, eight Johnson City churches, Summit Leadership, East Tennessee State University, Northeast State Community College, Science Hill High School, Providence Academy, Chamber of Commerce Youth Leadership, American Heritage Girls, the United Way and five large corporate employers stepped up to send teams of volunteers to do the packing.

Carver Recreation Center donated the use of its gymnasium, and Second Harvest Food Bank handled the distribution.

The nearly 600 volunteers were divided into four groups that each worked two-hour stints, weighing and measuring loose macaroni noodles and packets of soy protein, vitamins and cheese into 25,000 zip-lock bags that were vacuum-packed and labeled for a fortified, family favorite for six, or a total of 150,000 meals.

David Crocker, founder and co-director of the Knoxville-based Operation In As Much and a past pastor at Central Baptist, said, “This one of the largest community-wide events we’ve seen and we love that.

“It’s just a beautiful thing to see it happen with multiple churches working together. We need more of this kind of thing. I think it’s a significant event for the community.”

Rhonda Chaffin, executive director of the regional food bank, said the meals will be distributed by the food bank’s mobile food pantry, which serves rural areas without access to a community pantry, and through pantries and other hunger-fighting agencies in the Johnson City area. “We’re going to use them in several different things,” she said.

Chafin said her second joy with Saturday’s event was its concentration of groups of volunteers who, because of the event, are now familiar with the work of the food bank and their opportunity to join in the fight against local hunger on a regular basis.

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