Rachel and Ross Hershey
Photo courtesy of Nancy Buckwalter

Rachel Hershey and her son Ross Hershey work to prepare a meal at Christ’s Hands in Harlan, Ky.

While MCC’s Sharing With Appalchian People (SWAP) program is well-known for working with volunteer groups to repair homes, SWAP is also involved with food programs for local residents in Harlan, Ky.

SWAP has a long-standing connection with Christ’s Hands, which houses a soup kitchen and food pantry. In fact SWAP helped build the industrial kitchen and remodel the dining area at the current location in 1999. But this past summer SWAP volunteers have gotten more closely involved. 

On a typical SWAP day, the summer staff and several volunteers prepare the evening meal for the SWAP groups at the Harlan forestry camp. But each Tuesday this summer, the designated SWAP cooks instead spent the day at Christ’s Hands helping to cook typical regional meals like soup beans, corn bread and greens.

Once the other SWAP volunteers finished at their construction sites, they all came to Christ’s Hands where they shared the evening meal together. “We encourage them to mingle with the locals that eat there regularly,” said Stephanie Broersma, SWAP location coordinator in Harlan. Following the meal, a community speaker shared about the area and cultural richness.

Elizabeth Kimmel from Carlisle, Ohio, has served as SWAP summer staff the past four summers. She enjoyed the time working in the Christ’s Hands kitchen alongside local residents fulfilling their community service hours for government assistance and rehabilitation programs, along with other local volunteers. “Hearing their stories about their children and everything they’d gone through and getting to connect with them was really great,” she reflected.

Typically the soup kitchen cooks around 100 meals five nights a week, plus the last Sunday of the month. About 40 of those meals are taken to homebound folks each time, while the rest eat at Christ’s Hands. The organization also operates a food pantry which distributes meat canned by MCC. And SWAP was instrumental in forging a partnership with Midwest Food Bank to bring semi trucks of food to the tri-country area where the food is distributed to numerous different food pantries, including Christ’s Hands.

“One of the most important aspects of this partnership is the positive attitudes that the SWAP volunteers bring,” said Bryan Toll, director of Christ’s Hands. “Our clients are usually struggling with daily life, and SWAP volunteers provide an uplifting spirit. The positive and excited attitude SWAP volunteers bring for serving also transfers to our local volunteers in bringing a renewed energy and compassion in serving.”

Emma Stutzman, from Orrville, Ohio, worked at Christ’s Hands with SWAP through the Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP) program. This was her fourth time volunteering in Harlan. She enjoyed her time building relationships with the other volunteers and local folks. “I feel God has blessed me with having this opportunity,” said Stutzman, who is 72 years-old. “I can be of service without going thousands of miles away.”

The partnership between SWAP and Christ’s Hands goes even further. SWAP volunteer groups worked at Christ’s Hand as a jobsite almost every week this past summer building bunk beds in the hospitality center, putting a new roof over the food pantry and other general maintenance. And the two organizations have worked together on “family service nights” where they packed MCC hygiene kits, some of which went to MCC for international distribution and some of which were distributed locally to people in need.

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