Pastor of the Year

Jones finds her niche with weekly food distributions

Volunteers pack boxes of food for distribution.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Pastor Elouise Jones

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

A few times each week automobiles line about a one-mile stretch from the intersection of Geddie Road and Highway 90 west. 

Not too far from the intersection, off Geddie Road, pastor Elouise Jones and a volunteer corps from Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center pack boxes of food. After hours of preparation, they allow the cars, trucks and SUVs to start rolling through.

Sometimes the process of doing the weekly food give-away goes from mid-afternoon into the dusk.

Jones doesn’t let up as she signals drivers to keep their vehicles rolling through.

“I feel so good that I’m able to feed God’s people,” Jones told a visitor recently. “God gives me strength to do it. Without God, I couldn’t do it.”

Jones also took a proactive role during the pandemic. Her church, which is located in a rural area, was one of the venues where Bethel Missionary Baptist Church set up its mobile medical unit to offer vaccinations.

Jones, who started her first church in Thomasville, Ga., more than two decades ago, was named Pastor of the Year by the Capital Outlook.

“Thank God,” Jones said, reacting to the honor. “I’m worthy. I thank God that they see me to be Pastor of the Year.”

But members of Jones’ congregation said even though the food give-away is very public, she prefers not being in the limelight. Empathy is what drives her persistence to feed people, said Verronisa Grayson, a longtime volunteer. 

“You never know what people are going through,” Grayson said. “For her to jump out there because God told her to do it, I said ‘let’s do it.’ ”

Jones said when she decided to begin the food distribution she was responding to an order from a higher power. She spent several weeks with Second Harvest learning about the process. 

Her only request from the voice that instructed her was simple. “God gives me strength to do it,” she said was her plea. “Without God, I couldn’t do it.”

She has established a schedule to give food on Mondays and Tuesdays in the first week of each month. The following week, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and sometimes Saturday are the days that hundreds line up for free food.

About 200 boxes of food are prepared every day. The takers come from as far as Pensacola, said Brenda Williams, associate pastor at Tabernacle of Praise.

“For the people that I have seen over the years, I’d bet she has fed millions of people,” Williams said. “They come from near and far.”

Many who show up are members of Jones’ church. Most of them know their pastor’s story of overcoming a life that she described as “wild” to lead a congregation of about 75. 

“A preacher,” Jones said, “I never thought.”

She was content sewing for a company in her hometown Havana, Fla. However, she admittedly couldn’t resist responding to a voice she heard while driving in her car.

“I looked around and said, ‘who me?’ He said, ‘yes,’ ” Jones said, recalling some of the conversation.

That was about 30 years ago when she started a church in Thomasville. She later moved to a location off Highway 20 before moving to her current location at 170 Geddie Road.

 Since preaching became her mission, Jones has also traveled to New York to organize a prayer revival, she said. 

Being steadfast hasn’t been easy, Jones said, mentioning how she overcame two broken marriages and raised four children singlehandedly. 

“Everything I’ve been through made me who I am today,” Jones said.

Praying is constant, Jones said, explaining that she seldom makes a move without hearing from the higher power that she trusts. One example was the time she felt compelled to take service outdoors as a precaution against COVID-19.

Conditions weren’t ideal but she carried on.

“It was cold,” she said, “but we enjoyed.”

Although she is directed by her church’s board members, almost everything Jones does is hands-on. Williams said she finds inspiration in Jones’ leadership.

“She has been around for a long time,” Williams said. “She is one of the best preachers or teachers that you want to connect with.”

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