By Michelle Brooks
RUSSELLVILLE - What started out as a summer community service project for church youth groups, has blossomed into a gift for everyone.
Underneath the City Park pavilion in Russellville Wednesday evening, more than 60 guests were served barbecued pork and fixings by hospitality ladies from several churches.
"This has been a hit, better than I expected," said organizer Tammy Kirchner said.
Attendance at Wednesday increased from the first event in June. And many of the faces were different.
"This has spread mostly by word of mouth," said organizer Laurie Koestner.
After spending time visiting and watching children play, the families left with a bag of healthy snacks and hygiene products, which had been filled by the youth of area churches.
"I thought this would be great, the community pulling together the help out families who are low," said Devin Koestner, 17. "I've seen a lot more under the skin of the community, beyond businesses and festivals."
This was the second of four free community picnics and distributions planned for the summer.
The community picnic and distribution will be repeated at 6 p.m. July 25 and Aug. 8 at City Park.
In the Cole County R-I School, nearly 240 children, or 40 percent of students, qualify for free- and reduced-price meals.
"It's fun to see people's smile on their face when you give them something," said Addie Kirchner, 14.
Trinity and St. Paul Lutheran churches annually combined their youth groups for outings and projects.
Parents and students alike had seen the impact of the Central Missouri Food Bank's school-year, Buddy Pack program.
So, although this summer project is not affiliated with the United Way of Central Missouri agency, it is meeting the same need, Kirchner said.
Before the night of the picnic, church members had donated all of the items that filled the bags.
"Many of churches have been helpful in giving," Kirchner said.
Other participating congregations include Corticelli Baptist, Russellville Baptist, Russellville United Methodist, Russellville Assembly of God, Enon Baptist, St. Michael's Catholic, Cole Spring Baptist and Mt. Olive Baptist churches.
Many of these churches also have joined together to host a community Vacation Bible School the last several years, this year July 20-21.
"We will begin collecting Sunday for the next one," said Terry Zumwalt.
Because this project is entirely local, Karen Phillips said she expected that's why churches have experienced such a great participation.
"There was a time when I could have used this," Phillips said. "Any of us could be in this situation."