Volunteers serve at Riverview church set to celebrate 175 years
By LINDA CHION KENNEY
New to town, Belem Zapata found a deeply rooted church in Riverview in which to worship and volunteer her time; she was there earlier this month, handing out food to people in need
“I love it, especially speaking to Hispanic people in my native language,” Zapata said. “It’s nice to talk to them, interact with them and help them. It’s also nice to help the church.”
Zapata is one of many volunteers behind the outreach effort at Riverview United Methodist Church, which sits at the corner of U.S. Highway 301 and Riverview Drive. Hot meals are served there Tuesdays and bagged food is distributed every Tuesday and Thursday, through the Restore food pantry open to people living in Hillsborough County.
Connie Mosley has been a member of the church since age 12. Today, the 74-year-old parishioner helps organize the food pantry, where she volunteers her time and witnesses first-hand the spirit of giving — and giving back — that underlies the effort.
“People come here when they’re in need, and then when they get in better circumstances, they come back and bring donations,” Mosley said. “It gives you a good feeling that you’re helping other people.”
Jan Crichton has been coming to the church since birth. One of the buildings on the church campus is named in honor of her father, Bill Crichton, an engineer who moved his family to the area in 1952.
“He loved this church,” Crichton said. “Any time you couldn’t find dad, we would discover him here, day and night. He was instrumental in getting the building.”
It’s one of many on the campus of the RUMC, which in November is set to celebrate 175 years of worship and service to the community.
Today’s RUMC sanctuary sits at the corner of Riverview Drive and U.S. Highway 301. Built in the 1960’s, it traces its roots to a small, log meeting house built by Riverview pioneer Benjamin Moody and his neighbor, George Simmons, on the south bank of the Alafia River.
Completed in 1846, that log cabin structure is considered to be “the first building actually built as a Methodist church anywhere in Hillsborough County,” according to a brief history of the early RUMC, written by Dee Lindsey.
Leading up to the anniversary celebration scheduled for Nov. 14 is a slate of projects aimed to spruce up the RUMC sanctuary and campus in time for its historic anniversary celebration.
It’s a great time to spread the word about a church that is committed to community as much as it is to faith, a major draw for pastor Louis Telcy, hired in 2018 to lead the congregation.
“We’re here to help people in the community, and it’s not just about the church,” Telcy said. “It’s about the community, to spread the true love of God to all and for all. A lot of people come to our pantry, and we’re serving more than 100 people every week, which is a good thing.”
As for the church itself, “Everybody knows everybody, and we are a very loving community,” Telcy said. “No matter who you are, we love everybody.”
Deeply rooted with families who have been attending the church for generations, RUMC also has members new to the community, who hail from such places as Guyana, St. Vincent, Haiti, England and Africa, Telcy said.
Volunteerism runs deep at Riverview United Methodist, as evidenced by the smooth operation of the Restore food pantry, a partnering agency of Feeding Tampa Bay USDA, which helps stock the pantry weekly. Also helping the effort are donations from various businesses, including Publix, Winn Dixie, Panera, Pizza Hut, South Shore United Methodist Church and the Rice Creek RV Resort in Riverview. Riverview United Methodist Church also has a working partnership with the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) center in Riverview, which has social services and a clothes closet available to people just up the road at 7807 Capitano St.
Helping to run the Restore food pantry are Dawn Parks and Mike Plett, who said he has “worked in one capacity or another since 2007.” Restore traces its roots to the long-running Riverview Meals on Wheels, which, once it closed, transferred its 11 or 12 clients to the church, Plett said. A church club at the time, called the United Methodist Women, decided to start a food pantry and thrift store, which until the COVID-19 pandemic broke had also been in operation.
“We’ve had several people run this place since then, going now into 15 years,” Plett added. “The need was really high when COVID broke, and we started seeing about 130 people a week.”
Parks noted that, as necessary, a drive-through service is used to hand out food and other items.
In addition to non-expired, non-perishable canned foods, donations sought include paper products, toiletries, personal hygiene items and school supplies. The pantry is stocked with several refrigerators for donations of meat, produce and dairy products that come from Feeding America and other donors.
The Restore food pantry is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. People seeking donations are allowed to visit the pantry once a week. A yard sale is scheduled for Oct. 24, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., to help provide holiday turkey dinners to pantry clients.
For more information, about the outreach and other church programs and services, visit www.riverviewflumc.org/, call 813-677-5995 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org/.