Members of Mountain Brook Baptist Church's Cooks on a Mission prepare scones to be sold to raise funds for mission projects. (Photo: Sherrie Futch)
A passion for food and hospitality combined at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to make a global impact.
In 2010, a group of women combined a love for food, the gift of hospitality and the desire to support the church's mission endeavors to begin Cooks on a Mission (COAM).
"We're not really sure how we got the name Cooks on a Mission. It was just one of the first things that came to mind when we realized we needed to start calling ourselves something," recalled Aimee Turner, one of COAM's founders.
The group began by running a Christmas House in one of the church's missionary residences, where they hosted meals and had a gift shop. The proceeds helped fund the church's family mission trips to California.
Since then, COAM has grown and evolved. They no longer do the Christmas House but still continue to combine their love for food and their desire to support missions.
"We cook soups, casseroles, scones, homemade bread and more, freeze the items in several sizes, and then make the food available to the church congregation in exchange for donations to the ministry," explained Jane Hauth, one of the cooks. "Then we take the donations and do mission work in the Birmingham area and beyond."
One Wednesday a month, the hallway of the church becomes the gathering place where COAM offers taste tests to the congregation and members stock up on delicious items such as baked ziti, chicken-and-wild-rice soup and bacon-cheddar scones.
Anyone can join the group, even if they are not interested in cooking. "Just ask Edna Israel," Turner quipped. "She doesn't cook but she can wash dishes like nobody's business!"
Now Israel is affectionately called the "chief dishwasher."
"You can peel a carrot or stir a pot. You can put on labels. There is a job for everybody," said Sherrie Futch, another founding member of COAM.
Joann Stramaglia remembers how she got involved with the group.
"I started out by squeezing lemons. We were making lemonade for Vacation Bible School the first day I joined the group," she said. "I probably squeezed 100 lemons that day and I love lemons. I knew immediately that's where the Lord wanted me to be."
On any given Friday, you can find a dozen or more people in the church kitchen preparing the delicious meals to stock in the freezer. While they're together, they do a lot more than cooking. They take time to learn about one another.
"This ministry provides us a community where we can share our burdens and joys. We spend lots of time praying together. This is a very important part of our ministry," explained Kim Hardwick, another longtime member.
Another important aspect of their ministry is local mission partnerships. For more than two years, COAM has been supporting The WellHouse, a ministry based in Leeds, Alabama, which rescues women from human trafficking.
The partnership began with COAM providing delicious meals and a freezer for the residents at The WellHouse.
As the partnership has developed, so has the depth of ministry opportunities. Now many of the women who are recovering at The WellHouse come to cook with the crew.
"One of my favorite aspects of this ministry is on Fridays when the ladies from The WellHouse join us and they cook with us," Futch said. "At the middle of the day we stop and take a break and sit around the table and have lunch together. More importantly, we get to pray with these ladies, to love on them, to treat them with dignity and to show them that we care about them and Jesus does too."
In December, COAM partnered with the women from The WellHouse to host a one day lunch and pop-up shop to raise money for the ministry's new campus. The event was highly successful, raising $10,000.
Each month, COAM provides breakfast for the students who are studying for their GED at MPower Ministries, another local mission partner.
They also provide bags of kid-friendly food for at-risk students to take home on the weekends for an area school though Backpack Buddies.
Other local mission initiatives include providing meals for the pediatric oncology parent support group at Children's Hospital and buying plus-size coats each winter for the First Light Shelter.
"We learned that this ministry gets lots of coats, but not many in larger sizes," Turner explained.
"We also have done welcome baskets for women who are moving out of the shelter," Hardwick said.
While COAM is decidedly outward focused, they also seek to support the fellowship and ministry initiatives of Mountain Brook Baptist by putting their culinary skills to work for churchwide meals and festivals.
Each year they prepare the annual churchwide Thanksgiving meal for 500 people, in addition to making take-home selections available for the church members to serve at their family holiday gatherings.
"Ultimately, this ministry allows us to share the love of Christ through food," Futch said. "This is about the Lord. He has blessed this ministry beyond our wildest expectations."
Mary Splawn is the minister of connections at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. You can follow her on Twitter @marysplawn.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series on missions and local churches / denominational organizations.
Previous articles in the series are:
Sharing the Gospel, Saving Lives in West African Nation
CBF of Georgia Connects Youth to Mission Projects
How Your Church Can Break the Fortress Mentality
Sustaining Ministries Through Indigenous Missionary Support