Collaboration & Connection: Community rallies around UM Mission Project

By Jim Minutelli

“I never thought I would be so excited for a flatbed truck!” 

Those were the first words spoken by the director of the Upshur Parish House and WV Conference Lay Leader Kristi Wilkerson when asked for her thoughts about her organization’s brand new donation.

She enthusiastically added, “We are eager to use the donation to continue our work in mission and ministry, and in the ongoing fight against food insecurity in our area.”

And Kristi has every reason to be thrilled.  After a yearlong grant process, with significant support from the Upshur County community, the Buckhannon Rotary Club, and the Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF), the Upshur Parish House has been able to purchase a brand new 2022 Chevy 3500 flatbed truck.

And it wasn’t just that “new truck smell” that was exciting, it was also knowing that an all-encompassing group of people, both locally and nationally, stepped up in a concerted effort to see this project succeed. 

“We are tremendously grateful to LCIF, our local Lions, and our local Rotary Club for providing such a wonderful gift to the Upshur Parish House,” Wilkerson stated.


When Gary Frush, the Parish House finance chairperson and Buckhannon Lions Club member, approached Kristi two years ago about the need to replace their 2001 model truck, he confirmed that it needed to be done sooner than later.  He also was the first to suggest that they look into a Hunger Grant through the Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF).

Kristi and her team knew that Gary was right about the truck; “our 2001 pickup had over 220,000 miles on it, needed repair, and insufficient for our needs due to increases in food insecurities during the pandemic. We had to find a way to replace a piece of equipment that was vital to our mission to ‘provide much-needed care for all people in Upshur County, WV in the name of Jesus Christ.’”


Kristi researched LCIF and admitted that she wasn’t sure how likely it would be for them to receive the money, knowing the competitive nature of the nationwide grant. “We remained prayerful and hopeful,” she said, realizing they had a strong history of being supported financially and through service by their local Lions clubs and individual Lions members. 

Once the word was out that about the grant, the community quickly rallied around Upshur Parish House, and, as Kristi gathered information and spoke with Lions Club members and LCIF representatives, it started to become evident to her that they would have a good chance of being awarded the funds.  

Kristi realized from her research that LCIF looked for projects and programs that engage multiple clubs in a region, and the organization had been doing so for years.  She was really pleased in September 2021 when they were able to submit, what she thought, was a strong application on behalf of WV Lions District 29-I.

In mid-January 2022 everyone learned that LCIF had approved and was awarding them the grant!  With the pandemic, new truck orders were taking up to 12 months to fulfill, so considerable time was spent by Frush, and UPH Trustees Bill Nicholson (also a Lion) and Dave Poling, to find a vehicle that was adequate for their needs.  In the end, they were able to find a cab and chassis and installed the flatbed themselves.

WV Lions District 29-I Governor Susan Long, who worked back and forth with the Parish House on their application for over a year, says that Lions Clubs “love to work with partners” especially in the case of a Humanitarian grant, with an emphasis on hunger.  Long explained that the grant is a matching grant, where LCIF covers 75% of the costs of the project and the other 25% is funded by local Lions Clubs and/or their partners.  Local Lions clubs in Upshur County stepped up by providing an additional $5,660 of the match and the Buckhannon-Upshur Rotary Club provided $5,000 more, according to Long.  Total grant funds for the new truck were $42,640, with $31,980 coming from LCIF.

District Governor Long said that LCI has six main initiatives that they support throughout the world, and, “since hunger is one of these initiatives, the Upshur Parish House definitely qualified for the request.”

FOOD INSECURITIES ARE SIGNIFICANT IN WV states that, in WV, almost 250,000 people are facing hunger issues, including food insecurities, and 1 in every 5 children in WV are hungry.  According to the website, food insecurity refers to what the USDA outlines as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life of all household members.  Each year, as part of the FeedAmerica network, the Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway, WV distributes 19,793,214 meals to people struggling with hunger in our region.

The Upshur Parish House orders between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds of food each month from the Mountaineer Food Bank, in addition to food and other items from World Vision, Storehouse WV, community donations and other partners. 

In the past, after receiving an order from MFB, “we had to break down the pallets and load the supplies on our truck and five or six volunteer’s personal trucks, then unload them again once we got to the Parish House,” said Wilkerson.  Each box was moved at least four times before finally getting it to the pantry.  With the new flatbed truck, pallets can be loaded directly onto the truck and unloaded once.


The extensive application process culminated on April 5, 2022 when Lions Governor Long and local Rotary President Kathy McMurray presented checks from their respective organizations during a ceremony of dedication for the new truck.

Rev. Rick Swearengin, West Virginia United Methodist Conference Superintendent serving the Wesleyan District, summed up this whole process well during the ceremony of dedication.   “The staff members of the Upshur Parish House and those who worked in collaboration with them on this project are examples of neighbors helping neighbors and the love of God in action.”

And, as he closed the celebration in prayer, Swearengin said, “We give thanks to God for His gift of this truck to better serve our connection and community.”

The Upshur Parish House is a mission project of the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church and seeks to serve its neighbors with the compassion, generosity, and grace of Jesus Christ. 
To find out more information about this any of the other six mission projects supported by the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church, please click on this link.

The mission of Lions Club International Foundation is to empower Lions clubs, volunteers, and partners to improve health and well-being, strengthen communities, and support those in need through humanitarian services and grants that impact lives globally.  The vast majority of grand funding is made possible by donations from Lions Clubs and individual members worldwide.