By Sherri Coner
As Phil Whisner placed zucchini, cucumbers, an assortment of peppers and a few other vegetables on one of the tables, he smiled and said, “This whole thing was set up to help the neighborhood.”
Five years ago, members of Southport United Methodist Church decided to bring in produce from the community garden behind the church as well as their own gardens and invite neighbors to freely enter the church and take home what they wanted.
They called it Harvest Table.
When the pandemic closed the doors, Whisner and several other church members provided the Harvest Table outside, right on the busy corner of E. Southport Road and Washington Street.
Since then, the people have continued to come.
Some of them make monetary donations before they leave with bags of produce.
Others bring produce from their own gardens to share.
Last year a few male church members built a covered shelter on the corner, added a few lawn chairs and a big sign to welcome anyone.
Whisner, who joined the church in 2001 and provides building maintenance, greeted a woman from the neighborhood who asked if tomatoes and green beans were on the Harvest Table.
“No tomatoes yet,” Whisner said. “That’s up to Mother Nature. When she is ready, then we will have tomatoes. It should be another week or two.”
Last week, Whisner and other volunteers gave away 130 pounds of produce.
“In another 30 days, we will have four tables full of produce,” he said. “If we have anything left over, we donate it to the food pantry.”
As he pointed toward the church, Whisner grinned.
“Every kid in this neighborhood knows we have strawberries planted right over there. We never have to pick them,” he said with a laugh.
On the second Wednesday of each month, church members provide live outdoor music at 6 p.m. for anyone to enjoy. This event called “Tunes At the Table,” also provides free hot dogs.
“After Covid-19, we kept everything outside and turned it more into a ministry,” said church member Richard Bender of Greenwood.
A few yards behind the Harvest Table, the fenced-in playground is always left unlocked so neighborhood children can play.
Preschool children have a garden area where they plant seeds to grow their favorite produce.
And thanks to an open-door policy, approximately 30 neighborhood teenagers now participate in the youth ministry, Whisner said.
A few minutes before 9 a.m., the designated time for Harvest Table to display the produce available until noon, Brandon Collins, the assistant pastor of the church, stopped by to add some of his own garden goodies to the mix.
By the time members offer the Aug. 9 Tunes At the Table, all the additional tables will be piled high with produce, Collins said before he hurried into the church.
“We are what we call an outreach church,” Whisner said. “We work with people. The Harvest Table is here to help people.”