LEE'S SUMMIT — "Did I tell you about what my daughter is doing at school?" Snippets of conversation carry across the room as people share a meal together. But this isn't a typical church fellowship meal, although filled with plenty of time to get to know one another.
This is Friends Day, celebrated each second and fourth Saturday at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Lee's Summit through its not-for-profit ministry arm, Coldwater. Compelled by Matthew 10:42 to offer a cup of cold water to the little ones, the congregation believes building relationships is the key to helping people in their neighborhood out of poverty.
"Our mission is to make friendships to break down the toughest barrier in our culture — the economic barrier," explained Cornerstone Pastor and Coldwater President Chuck Arney. "That's why our motto is 'building friendships to foster hope.'"
In 2011, the ministry served more than 500 families classified as at poverty level. Last year, Cornerstone spent more than $80,000 and expects to spend about $100,000 this year — half the church's budget. "Coldwater has been a real delight for us," Arney said. "It's enabled us to walk through doors we would not have walked through."
Friends Day is much more than a feeding ministry. Instead, it's an opportunity for church members and community residents to get to know one another. Participants spend two to three hours eating together, shopping for clothes in the ministry closet and food from the pantry. Often, area musicians perform. "But this is not a come-to-Jesus event," Arney said.
Instead, mostly middle-class volunteers eat with community members and just share. "People begin praying together, sharing together. Then they take the relationships further," the pastor said. Many have set up time outside the Friends Day events to spend together.
Coldwater partners with the school district to provide food for children in poverty, and now has become the largest provider in the Harvester Food Bank's BackSnack program. The ministry coordinated more than 500 volunteers from across Lee's Summit to assist with Friends Days and BackSnack last year.
In addition, Coldwater provides free lunches and library books for children and sponsors neighborhood barbeques throughout the summer.
The ministry sponsors a twice-monthly mobile pantry to shut-in senior adults and disabled individuals. It currently serves more than 950 people.
Many of those who have been served have now become servers. One family sought Coldwater's help with transportation needs to get the husband to a new job. Now the "shade-tree" mechanic helps other families with auto repair, Arney said.
A year ago, a family with a child with disabilities needed assistance with mounting medical bills that were "eating them up," the pastor said. The child passed away at 20 months, but the family continues to participate with Coldwater as volunteers.
While continuing its current ministries, Coldwater has set its sights on its next goal — a community center and housing for low-income disabled adults. The community center would be used for economic development and as an event center, as well as a site for neighborhood activities.