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Feed My Sheep

Reverend John Swyers didn’t set out to run one of Nashville’s largest food box distribution centers. With a congregation of 16 people, he was simply looking for ways to get his congregation more involved in the community. “I was following God’s command to ‘feed my sheep.’”
With over 24 years of service as a prison chaplain, Rev. Swyers moved to Nashville to lead St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in 1981. In the heart of one of Nashville’s poorest areas of town, Rev. Swyers wanted to find a way to give people help and hope.
“Nashville Rescue Mission became our neighbor when they opened their women’s campus in 1987,” said Swyers. “When an intern from Vanderbilt Divinity School was assigned to our church a couple years later, it was her suggestion that we start serving breakfast to the homeless women, one Sunday a month.”
Eventually this intern would become the Breakfast Coordinator at St. Paul’s, where they now serve breakfast every Sunday to the homeless women and children staying at the Mission and have done so for the past 26 years. “While our congregation is small, we have a collective group of nearly 100 volunteers representing seven different churches, a variety of denominations and civic groups, who take turns helping prepare and serve these women and their children breakfast every Sunday. Our serving is not only an outreach to the women in need, but it also gives us an opportunity to give back to the kitchen staff at the Mission’s Women’s Campus who faithfully serve the homeless in our community every day.”
Anywhere from 8 to 15 volunteers show up each Sunday morning, ready to prepare and serve a hot, hearty breakfast to over 150 homeless women and children. “Over and over we hear how much this means to the women and their children,” said Swyers. “So many will stop to say ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless you’ after they’ve received their meal. Over the years, we’ve had some of the women return to worship with us after breakfast. They are kind, gentle people who need help and hope. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve them.”
In 1997, St. Paul’s became a food box distribution center for Second Harvest Food Bank. Today, they are one of Nashville’s most used food banks. “We hand out anywhere from 25 to 35 food boxes each day. In 2014, we distributed over 8,000 food boxes in our community. Our goal is to proclaim the Gospel, one meal at a time, one box of food at a time.”
“St. Paul’s might be a small church with a small congregation, but they are making a big impact in this community,” said Carolyn Grossley, director of the Mission’s Women’s Campus. “Rev. Swyers, his church, and their volunteers have been such a blessing to the ladies who live at the Mission. Not only have they served meals, but they are constantly asking, ‘What can we do to help?’ It’s a beautiful thing when the body of Christ comes together to help those in need.”
Rev. Swyers, who is 75 years old said, “God has been good to me and I’m having the time of my life. I don’t take these gifts for granted. I’m blessed and want to be a blessing to others. I’ve said it many times before, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you simply need to feed the hungry. People are hungry—feed them—one meal at a time.”

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