It’s late morning on food-shelf day at Bethesda Baptist Church in South Minneapolis, and the downstairs area is bustling. Church secretary Sister Booker is in her office at the command station, juggling telephone conversations, eye glued to her computer when she isn’t shuttling back and forth upstairs to the pastor’s office.
Mama D is packing bags of groceries in the pantry. Sister Rose is putting out bread — loaves, bags of rolls, boxed croissants — on two long picnic tables. And Kenya Fells is troubleshooting, pitching in anywhere an extra pair of hands might be needed.
Fells seems to be everywhere at once constantly going to and coming from someplace. The kitchen, the pantry, supply stockroom, you name it, Kenya Fells is there, helping out virtually every Monday that God sends, good weather or bad. As a volunteer.
She’s a member of the Missions Ministry at Bethesda. “The Lord,” Fells attests, “put in on my heart to help others. And these days, the way [the economy] is, people need all the help there is to give them.”
She counts her blessings that, when she leaves the church at the end of the day on Mondays, there is no need to take home a bag for herself. Fells is among the fortunate who have jobs in this economic day and age.
She is a bus aide for the Emily O. Goodridge-Grey Accelerated Charter School, riding shotgun so to speak, helping to keep grade-school youngsters from getting so rambunctious they interfere with the driver doing his or her job. “Making sure,” she says, “the kids are sitting down and being safe, not hopping from seat to seat.”
Hers is a two-income family in which her fiancé, Bobby Morris, does the same thing. He’s also a member of Bethesda Baptist Church and volunteers there, just not as regularly as Fells. Morris too is employed as a bus aide by Emily O. Goodridge-Grey Accelerated Charter School. His route is in Minneapolis, hers in St. Paul. Between the two, they make do.
Kenya Fells acknowledges that, like other workaday folk, coupons are a part of budgetary life. As is carefully considering where to shop, what is on sale which week. Just, generally, how to make the best use of a dollar.
She adds that they have three youngsters in the household, two of whom are teenagers: “a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old. Those two are eating machines after they come in from school and doing sports and all that. So, I have to buy more than what I used to buy. Larger quantities. In bulk.”
She splits cooking duties — not with Bobby Morris, but with the teenagers. “I usually cook, but if I don’t have something prepared, they are on their own.”
Are the youngsters learning to appreciate the value of a dollar? “Not really, but I’m trying to get them to. They want what they want when they want it. They gotta realize thing are going up nowadays [in price]. Clothes, food, everything. Gas. You need gas to go get food. We ain’t carryin’ groceries on the bus. I’m sorry, that won’t happen.”
Who manages the money in the house? “We kind of [do] it together. Sometimes his check is higher and mine is lower, sometimes the other way around. We make what we need to make out of it. Keep up with the bills. Make sure no utilities or anything get cut off.”
No matter how well a couple work things out, the stress of stretching a buck can get to them. These two are no different and, once in a while, it gets tough to deal with. “Not often, but it has happened.”
The reality, Fells points out, is that they work together on everything about the home, both of them finding strength in their faith. “Money, food, clothes, kids, all of it, I just leave it all in the hands of God. Bobby has the same attitude.”
You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to relate to the concept of being evenly yoked. You can’t have one walking by faith and the other walking by sight. “No,” Fells agrees, “you can’t.” Together three years now, they have passed the usual make-or-break point of two years after which most relationships, if they’re going to fall apart, have gone by the wayside.
Kenya Fells has been a member of Bethesda Baptist Church’s congregation the last five years and has put in time helping out with the food shelf roughly since 2009, pitching in as well for special events like picnics and fairs at nearby Elliot Park. From time to time she may get worn out at the end of the day, but she never gets tired of being of service. “I like it. I come down here and pay my time, my talents and tithes.”
Sister Booker, happening by in a rare moment away from her duties, has a few words to say in appreciation. “Kenya Fells is a hard worker. She will help anybody where she can. She is a good member, an invaluable member of Bethesda Baptist Church.”
Makes you want to follow that with a resounding “Amen.”