United Methodist Women has worked in local communities to enrich the lives of children, youths and the elderly for over 50 years.
Today, Starkville District UMW continues this mission through activities that address hunger and other women’s issues.
The annual district meeting was recently held at First United Methodist Church in Starkville. About 35 women attended via Zoom, while 25-30 attended in-person, according to Eve Priester, a minister and chaplain who also serves as the district president.
The member of St. James United Methodist Church said Mississippi has 11 districts. Starkville district includes the counties of Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Webster, Winston and portions of Attala. The district UMW headquarters is at 415 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Starkville. It can be contacted by phone at (662) 323-0198.
“We’re about children, elderly and youth,” Priester said. “We have the resources to raise the money to make sure we can help empower women, change poverty and save lives. That’s what we try to do.”
Addressing modern times
The district annual conference was themed “God’s protection in turbulent times.”
In order to find God during times of change, people must change their perspective and put aside traditions they’ve learned all of their life, said the Rev. Jackie Richardson, a Columbus native who currently lives in Saint Charles, Missouri. She served as the keynote speaker at the annual conference. She spoke to the Commercial Dispatch during an interview Monday .
“Sometimes we are so focused in our own environment and we don’t understand that God is all over and he’s just not in one place,” she said. “When we have this new perspective, it allows us to trust in God and His plan.”
Richardson said she accepted her calling into the ministry in 2003 by taking courses offered near her home through the United Methodist Church.
She grew up attending Columbus’ St. James United Methodist Church, where both her mother and grandmother were active in UMW and its precursor, the Women’s Society of Christian Service.
After she left home, she eventually joined Union Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and started working with the UMW there. Her past roles include serving as a vice president of the state of Missouri’s east conference and traveling across the country to participate in various UMW programs.
One of Richardson’s passions is helping people, especially women.
“I have always felt like women need to excel because we’ve always been kind of on the backburner fighting everywhere,” she said.
For Richardson, helping others is one of the beautiful things about using your talents.
“I feel like it’s just something I do, not something that I even know I’m doing,” she said. “That’s the beautiful thing about the gifts of God.”
Addressing drop-out rates
Every year, the state UMW comes up with a list of issues for districts to tackle, such as human trafficking, hunger, or homelessness. During the annual district conference, the district decides on which issues to focus. Priester said the Starkville district hopes to address drop-out rates among teen girls and stopping hunger in Mississippi.
The district has started to work with local school districts to start a program to help reduce drop-out rates among teenage girls, Priester said. They hope to make a clothing closet available to students. In order to access, students have to show that they are working to change their behaviour, and make a difference in the classroom and in themselves.
“Then that way it would be an incentive for them to want to make a difference and change their course on their own,” Priester said of the clothes closet. “I feel like if you give a person hope that will change their direction significantly. If they have just hope, they will want a better tomorrow.”
In an effort to address hunger, UMW has participated in gleanings, collected food from willing donors and held food giveaways, such as a catfish giveaway that was held in July, Priester said.
“My passion that I want to continue for the district is to stop hunger and feed the children,” she said.
Gleaning is a process in which someone goes to a farm or garden after it has been harvested and collects the remaining usable food from the fields.
After gathering the donated food, Priester said she works with Superintendent Paulette Buford-James to distribute it to churches and communities districtwide.
“My grandfather years ago, and when I say years ago, he’s been gone like 50 years,” Priester said. “He used to go off, like way out of Mississippi and did gleanings and helped people.. I never thought I’d be doing something he did.”
Pulling it off
UMW hopes to host a clothing giveaway in November and a toy giveaway in December.
To make these activities happen, UMW relies on the community — regular citizens, district churches, United Methodist Men (UMW’s counterpart), local pastors, businesses and organizations, such as the Black Farmers Association.
Help includes taking items to drop-off sites, collecting donations and helping distribute goods, Priester said.
She said people can also help UMW by donating clothes, shoes, money and supplies to aid UMW’s efforts. “If you can’t come to one of our churches, just tell us where you want us to meet you or where you want us to come. We’ll come to you,” Priester said.
To join, women do not have to be a member of the United Methodist Church. However, in order to hold an officer position, she must be a member, Priester said.
She encouraged all women to get involved in UMW.
“There is a United Methodist Church and United Methodist Women in every town in the Starkville district,” Priester said. “If you want to make a difference in your life and in your community, and if you would join in with us to help us to make a difference in women, children, and youth, we would appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.”
Richardson noted that people who are considering helping, but are hesitant should trust in God to lead them in the right direction.
“Sometimes we always think that we need to talk to our friends or sister or brother or whoever. That’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “But whatever it is that they tell you … don’t just rely on that. Continue to have a relationship with God. Trust him, lean on him and rely on confidence in yourself at all times. … If you’re someone who hasn’t made a decision, you’re sitting on the fence and trying to make a decision whether or not you want to get involved, give God space. Get in a relationship with him.”