Every school day, Terry and Martha Witt can be found working alongside their staff to make sure every child in public school classes in Reeds Spring, Missouri, has something to eat between lunchtime and returning to school the next day.
Life360 Community Services, a ministry of Springfield’s Life360 Church, partners with USDA grant programs to provide tubs of food for every classroom served by Life360 locations, giving students access to a healthy meal including protein, grain, fruit, vegetable, and dairy product.
The Witts relocated from Marysville, California, in January to join the Life360 team as church planters in Branson West, part of the Reeds Spring School District. But they are no strangers to helping children in need. In California, they acted as foster parents to over 100 children between 1988 and 2008.
They also served in pastoral ministry, most recently at Riverside Redemption Church in a challenging neighborhood historically known as “Heroin Alley.” An interest in rural poverty situations led to connection with Life360 through Kim and Laurel Harvey, U.S. missionaries with Rural Compassion and frequent ministry partners with Life360.
Rural communities are a primary focus of Life360, with several network churches in southern Missouri and plans to continue reaching out to other communities. However, the church isn’t just about entering communities to construct a building.
“Our approach is to become a stakeholder in the community,” says Ted Cederblom, 360 lead pastor. “We meet with community leaders, ask what the needs are, and build relationships. Eventually, those relationships lead to finding the unchurched and planting a church for them.”
Many times, a huge need is food. Like many rural communities, the Reeds Spring School District has a high percentage of students eating free or subsidized lunches, or living below the poverty threshold. With many parents working seasonal tourism jobs in nearby Branson, COVID-19 created an untenable situation for some families still trying to recover.
“Our percentage of students on free or reduced lunch got a lot higher when families lost jobs due to COVID,” says Andrea Chavez, Reeds Spring Intermediate School principal. “This program is a blessing.” It also creates another way to assist the community in the form of part-time jobs at the distribution sites.
A transitional housing project is underway in Branson to provide low-income families and aging-out foster youth with affordable apartments while they build life skills. As pastors of Life360 Branson West, the Witts will be involved as that project develops.
In the meantime, as they get acquainted in the community, Terry and Martha are seeing their former foster care ministry come full circle. After their biological children, Tara and Coy, reached adulthood, the family adopted three children as a sibling group from foster care. In California, the three began developing their musical talent and served on the worship team; now Miranda, 16, Hannah, 13, and Jayden, 11, attend Reeds Spring schools and are actively involved in the food ministry. Each week, the Witts distribute extra food packages from the school distribution program to some of the area’s challenging low-income neighborhoods.
Miranda says spending her evenings and weekends at the distribution site isn’t always her most favorite activity.
“It is hard work, but I keep thinking about the smiles on faces when families see us pull up, and how grateful people are for the groceries and milk,” Miranda says. I love seeing kids run up to the van to see what we have for them. Most of all I love being able to serve with my family.”
“The whole family is definitely all in with this ministry,” says Cederblom. “We’re excited to have them on the team and look forward to what God has for Branson West and Reeds Spring.”