Ripley Church of the Nazarene in West Virginia has developed a baby pantry ministry to help combat local poverty. Approximately 30 percent of the population in Ripley lives below the poverty line, which is nearly twice the national average.
The ministry is open on the first and third Thursday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. and provides families with diapers, wipes, breastfeeding/formula support, clothing, hygiene items, car seats, and basic medicine. The church doesn’t ask for proof of income and allows any family member to receive items.
“We seek to provide a way for these families to care for their toddlers and infants in a way that gives them dignity,” said Kristopher Powell, Ripley Church lead pastor.
The baby pantry began in 2016 and was established as an official Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Center in 2018. The ministry serves approximately 100 families annually, with nearly 30 families coming through the pantry each month.
The church’s first priority has always been to build relationships with each of the families that comes through the doors.
“Through these relationships, the church has been able to share in the joys of families welcoming new babies into their lives as well as to be a place of refuge for families that have suffered loss or setbacks in their family lives,” Powell said. “Our philosophy is that in the Gospel, Jesus always met physical needs before granting spiritual relief.”
This ministry has introduced the church to a whole new group of people in the community who fall through the cracks of the local social services — families of drug abuse victims.
“We have partnered with our local sheriff's department, foster care agencies, and the state agencies to provide for the needs of children in our community directly affected by the increasing opioid crisis that is rocking many communities in Appalachia,” Powell said.
This ministry has been so successful that it has even brought the church back from the edge of closure.
“This church has suffered from numerous conflicts through the years and over the past 10 years has seen significant decline,” Powell said. “The trend the church was on would have forced us to make a difficult decision about the future of the church's future in a few years as nothing that was attempted seemed to help the decline.”
Powell said this ministry has helped the church better connect to the community by restoring its reputation.
“Since starting the baby pantry, we have seen the church come together in unity to minister to the community,” Powell said. “We are now finding that our church has become a place where families are finding a place where their physical needs and spiritual needs are being met.”
Now, the church is hopeful for the future and excited about how the baby pantry can continue ministering to families in the community.
“We have seen several new families begin to attend our church, and the long trend of decline is now reversing — all because the church has been united behind the baby pantry ministry,” Powell said.