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Phelps Family Fights Hunger at Historic African American Church

Authur and Jeannette Phelps continue their church’s long history of helping others

On the outskirts of Decaturville (population 1,053), tucked away on a small Decatur County country road, Authur and Jeannette Phelps gather with other volunteers at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church to distribute food boxes to their neighbors in need. 

“When we first started, we had 40 people [receiving food] and now we have grown to about 450 people,” said Authur, a church deacon and food ministry organizer. “There is a big need in this area and now with the pandemic we have about 40-50 extra families.”

Authur and his wife Jeanette started the food ministry – a Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee Partner Agency – about 10 years ago. Twice a month the church provides fresh produce, meat, dairy, baked goods, and pantry items, to those facing hunger in their community.

“These are our neighbors,” said Jeanette, who also serves as the church secretary. “It is truly the Lord’s blessing to help those in need.”

A TRADITION OF FEEDING OTHERS

Born and raised in Decaturville, Authur’s family goes back at least six generations in the area. He also grew up attending St. Paul’s, which is where his inspiration for the food ministry began. 

“During my childhood, one of the church deacons used to feed children here,” said Authur. “That stuck with me along the way. My wife and I first started a child food ministry to feed kids 18 and younger with Southwest Human Resources. We kept doing it and doing it and the Lord kept leading us and so we started this food ministry at the church shortly after.”

The couple, who adopted two children (ages 9 and 10) and continue to foster, say that the work can sometimes be hard. When they feel overwhelmed, they turn to their faith.

“God gives us strength,” said Jeannette. “We lean on him with everything we do. He has really blessed our family and this church.”

HISTORIC ROOTS

St. Paul’s current location is a yellow brick building built in 1950, but the church’s history goes back much further. 

“This church is 200 years old and was part of the Underground Railroad,” said Authur. “We have been blessed to find out a lot about the church’s history.”

According to Authur the church first began with tent revivals near a small country store just down the road – Johnson’s Warehouse. The store is still there today.

“We are one of the few historic African American Churches in this area and we have been blessed to serve this community for so many years,” said Authur. “There were a lot of brave people who built this church, and we know they faced hardships along the way. It is a blessing to continue that work now.”

Second Harvest is proud to partner with the Phelpses and St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in fighting hunger in West Tennessee. 

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