SEDALIA — “Hey, how are you?” Rachael Finnell greeted a guest on a cold December afternoon.
“Doin’ okay,” the woman responded. “I know it’s early, but is it alright if we come in now? Sure is cold out today and we just need to warm up. Can I go ahead and put the coffee on?”
“Where are the tea pitchers?” a volunteer called as she opened cabinets. That afternoon, volunteers from Bethany Baptist Church, Sedalia, scurried around the kitchen in the building that houses the Community Café, heating ham and beans, baking cornbread and tossing salad. They planned to top the evening meal with ice cream sundaes.
A high school student’s vision four years ago and the continued commitment of Smith-Cotton High’s National Honor Society means 60 to 80 Sedalia residents enjoy a hot meal each evening, Monday-Friday.
As a high school sophomore, Kristen Allcorn served at Forest Avenue Family Shelter in Kansas City with the youth group from First Baptist Church, Sedalia. Sponsored by Forest Avenue Baptist Church, the shelter is one of the oldest ministries of its type for women and children in the KC area.
“I was really inspired…, particularly how they showed God’s love in many ways,” Allcorn said. “I looked for an opportunity to minister in Sedalia.”
Then, she and other members were challenged at a National Honor Society meeting to volunteer for a few hours at an agency or ministry in town.
“We really only had to volunteer but I wanted to start something more long-standing,” she said. “I just wanted to provide a meal for the hungry.”
Allcorn decided to check with area ministries to see what was already being done. Although people were being helped, she believed food remained a problem for many. “My dream was to have five meals a week and a homeless shelter,” she explained.
She talked to local churches and businesses to round up support for the project and formed a relationship with the Central Missouri Food Bank in Columbia. Under the National Honor Society’s umbrella and supervision, Allcorn developed a board of students and a board of directors composed of community supporters.
And she structured the ministry to allow students to continue it and to direct it.
Allcorn and two friends operated the ministry through their sophomore and junior years. As seniors, they enlisted younger students to train to take over leadership positions when the older students graduated.
This year senior Daniel Sanchez serves as executive director, with Finnell, a junior and also a First Baptist member, as vice executive director.
Although the ministry is usually closed on holidays, Finnell and her family organized and served a Christmas Eve meal.
From the beginning, Donnie Ditzfeld, vice president of Ditzfeld Transfer Inc., has allowed the ministry to use a building he owns on the city’s north side. The facility includes a kitchen, complete with appliances and stocked with paper products.
Members of the student board take turns overseeing each evening meal — setting up tables, readying plates and tableware, greeting guests (most of whom walk to the facility) and having them sign in.
Student leaders keep track of the calendar, noting which dates have no churches and other groups to supply food. They call until a group or business is enlisted. Many churches, such as First Baptist and Bethany, already have committed to a specific number of dates.
The honor society’s faculty advisor — currently Kelly Dotson — serves on the community board, which meets every other month.
And Allcorn believes God used the desire to begin the ministry and the experience working with it to confirm her life’s direction. A social work and pre-med student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, she feels called to be a medical missionary to an underserved area of the world.