Heaven's Bounty, a fresh food ministry, is gaining momentum and notoriety in the Ooltewah community through volunteers' efforts to provide wholesome produce to families and individuals in need.
"There are many organizations that work with nonperishables, but I wanted to work with fresh fruits and vegetables," said Kimberly Grace, founder and coordinator for Heaven's Bounty, which is part of the Southern Singles Ministry. "When your budget is really tight, you really cut down your grocery budget, especially niceties such as fresh produce. It's harder to work with because it is perishable and takes more hands, but the smiles we get in return are worth it."
Nearly a year after Heaven's Bounty was founded, Grace and volunteers are working closely with a local and anonymous grocer. The grocer is supplying the ministry with unsellable but useable and surplus produce on a six-day-a-week basis. The ministry works with between 200 and 300 individuals and families per month.
Grace said with the new support of the Southern Singles and a strong volunteer base, she will be able to reach more people in the community by working with local tornado-relief effort organizations.
Grace is looking for a permanent location for Heaven's Bounty, which currently works out of a volunteer's home, where volunteers can collect, organize, store and hand out their produce. She said once she finds a location, Heaven's Bounty is going to need donations such as refrigerators for storing the fresh food and volunteers to help sort through it.
"Every day we're helping individuals and several times a week we're helping organizations," Grace said. "It's really food for the heart and soul."
Grace began her food ministry after graduating from Southern Adventist University with a degree in mass communications with an emphasis in media productions. She said she and many of her classmates were having trouble finding employment.
"As the economy was really dipping and jobs were closing up, I just said, 'OK, Lord, as long as I am unemployed I will consider myself a full-time missionary and volunteer for the community and the rest is up to you," Grace said.
Grace was running short on food and money to supply her own needs, but rather than dwell on those facts, she began addressing the needs of others. She started with an elderly friend who was working odd jobs such as cutting grass. Grace approached grocers to see if they could donate produce too bruised to sell. After a few weeks, she was able to get enough fresh fruits and vegetables to feed many people.
"My friend was so incredibly grateful that someone cared enough to go an extra mile for him, he was just ecstatic," Grace said. "We had too much food though, and the first thing we both said was, 'Who else can we help?'"
Grace continued collecting produce from the grocers and soon had so much to give and so many people who needed help, she began looking for volunteers. She turned to members of the Southern Singles Ministry, who enthusiastically adopted the Heaven's Bounty ministry.