Elkhorn Baptist Association marks 225 years of service to community

Charlie Powers, right, delivered lunches and grocery items to Buddy Bowlin. who lives next to the Irishtown Baptist Mission.
Charlie Powers, right, delivered lunches and grocery items to Buddy Bowlin. who lives next to the Irishtown Baptist Mission. Pablo Alcala | Staff

For many, the holiday season is also the giving season. It's traditionally a time to donate money and gifts to charities to make sure the less fortunate in our communities can have a nice holiday.

For members of Elkhorn Baptist Association, though, every season is considered a season for giving. Reaching out to help and support the community around them is something the group has focused on since it was founded in 1785.

The Elkhorn Baptist Association has been in existence longer than the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and it's the oldest Baptist association west of the Allegheny Mountains. It started with just five churches 225 years ago; today the organization includes nearly 85 churches, executive director Don Reed said.

The group's 44,000 members are spread out across Fayette County and several others, including Jessamine, Woodford, Scott, Bourbon, Clark and Whitley counties.

"Our mission is to meet human needs and tell the good news of Jesus Christ, working to serve those in our community," Reed said.

And that's why the association exists today. The members of the churches believe working together is the best way to provide the most help to the community. The 85 churches, which operate autonomously, pool their finances and their time to contribute to several mission programs throughout the year.

The association maintains a feeding program that provides hot meals once a week and sack lunches three times a week. Reed said the program often serves food to nearly 2,000 people in the association's service region each week.

"Each church is in agreement to work together in church programs, ministries and missions with the idea that by pooling those resources, you can do so much more than you could on your own," Reed said. "Only by working together can you get that many people taken care of and serve all of them. We've never had to turn anyone away."

Sandra Williams, the association's director of church and community ministries, started the "Feed the Hungry" program 15 years ago. When it began, the ministry was preparing about 50 sack lunches a week with a small team of volunteers at First Baptist Church in Lexington. Now, it is feeding upwards of 2,000 with the sack lunches and about 150 at the hot meal ministry each week, Williams said.

The missions operate strictly on donations, Reed said. The association has never budgeted money for the food ministries. Instead, they receive donations from church members within the organization and several large food suppliers with extra food in their stores. Just recently, a store donated 5,000 corn dogs, and the association has received 50-pound containers of peanut butter, Reed said.

"To feed the hungry, we've never had to ask for money to do it," he said. "If we're running short, we'll just kind of pray and talk to the different churches and we'll get donations. That's the point — we operate on faith."

"It's amazing," Williams said. "For 15 years we've never run out of food or had to turn anyone away. God is just very good."

The association doesn't provide just food to the people who walk through the door. It tries to feed them spiritually, too. Williams said a volunteer stands at the door and takes prayer requests, and many volunteers just sit and talk with the people.

The Feed the Hungry program is what Williams calls a "no ask" ministry.

"We're not asking anyone why they're on the street or why they're in that condition," she said. "If you're hungry and you show up, you can come get a meal."

Sometimes the people visiting the ministry will show up at an association church on Sundays, but it's not a "high number," Williams said.

"Some of the people come (to church), and some get baptized, but even if they don't we'll just keep working and plugging away," she said. "We've at least got that opportunity open for the people to share their concerns and stories with someone who will listen to them."

The Elkhorn Baptist Association also provides several other ministries throughout the year. It has a year-round clothing closet, where anyone may get clothes and some household items for free. During the Super Bowl, the organization also sponsors a Souperbowl Party for the community. It makes soup and distributes it to anyone who comes, also showing the football game on a big-screen TV.

Currently, the group is accepting donations for its toy project, which also started 15 years ago. Low-income families may visit the association's "toy store" and buy toys at 10 percent of the original price, so a $10 toy can be purchased for $1, Williams said. This year, Williams said, she has received applications for toys for about 1,700 children.

The stores are set up in Lexington, Paris, Versailles, Nicholasville and Georgetown. Proceeds go to a special emergency fund designed to help people pay rent, utility and medical bills throughout the year.

Williams said she works with about 350 volunteers each month among all of the association's ministries, and the help comes in all ages. Families, adults, seniors and youth groups take turns volunteering with the group's ministries.

"The people are wonderful people, both the ones who are volunteers and the ones coming through the ministries. It's wonderful to build relationships with them and watch them grow," Williams said. "Some of the people come through for help, then turn around and want to help others and make the lunches with us.

"They're no longer just coming to get something, but to give and serve others, too."