At Encompass Ministries, independence is celebrated every day. This celebration started in 1998 after Lynne Saunders, founder of Encompass (originally Papa’s Pantry), and a friend returned home from a life-altering mission trip to India.
“Here I was, back in the good ol’ U.S. of A,” Lynne said. “Billboards boasting expensive watches and fashion (that) contrasted old apartments and hotels covered with graffiti. A church steeple spiked the background. The visual stopped me, as many questions began to stir in my heart, questions that changed my world and the world of thousands of families since.”
Lynne said she thought, “In this country with so many resources, why isn’t it working? In India, there were no government social services or churches to give aid. Why are families here still struggling to survive? Why were people not able to dig out of poverty? Why was childhood hunger becoming such a hot topic? Why, why, why?”
While wrestling with these questions long and hard in prayer, Lynne kept feeling a call to start a food cupboard.
“It wasn’t audible, but I began to sense God continuing to stir a solution in my heart,” she said. “I didn’t think I was qualified to start anything for the kingdom. Sure, I was a strong Christian, but I doubted what I had been taught — that God had a special call and purpose for every believer. Yes, even me.”
Papa’s Pantry (the original name and the spirit that will never change at this nonprofit) soon was launched in Lynne’s basement. She and her army of volunteers stayed busy visiting homes and distributing food to those in need.
“We help people get back on their feet and off government assistance,” Lynne said. “We give them the tools they need to do life successfully by getting behind the ‘why?’ of what keeps them from self-sufficiency.”
Within five years — in early 2004 — the first “open to the public” Papa’s Pantry opened. It was in one room of an older house (shared with Christian counselors) in downtown Canton that had turned into a business. In 10 short months, the pantry outgrew this space. In March 2005, the nonprofit moved into the building at 6551 Commerce Parkway in Woodstock, where it remains under the name Encompass Ministries.
The tools available to help get people back on their feet is the origin of The Master’s Training Center. Courses offered are:
- Stability: Career and Employment and Money Management.
- Goal-Setting and Life Skills.
- At-Risk Youth Training (off-site).
- Addictions Recovery Training (off-site).
Of course, the food pantry services remain constant, and the nonprofit also offers organic gardening. A bountiful organic garden has flourished behind the building for years and has provided countless families with fresh, healthy produce.
Encompass also offers community outreaches like school supply giveaways, free medical care in partnership with Bethesda Community Clinic and more. Its reach has expanded to surrounding counties, including Cobb and Pickens.
It’s easy to understand the meaning behind changing the name to Encompass in August 2019. So much of what the nonprofit does encompasses the whole person, restoring many to stability. The 2022 statistics reveal its impact on our communities: $1.1 million worth of food given, 24,706 people fed, 5,581 children fed, about 555,945 meals provided and 481 organization pickups. Even pets are covered, with 8,463 pounds of pet food being distributed.
Restoration of independence always is worth celebrating, and you are invited! Encompass Ministries will be having a gala Sept. 14 to celebrate 25 years of helping people achieve stability and having the tools to stay there. Organizers have planned a wonderful evening, filled with beautiful music by four-time Dove Award-winning musician Stan Whitmire and an inspirational message from Fox News contributor and retired Staff Sgt. Johnny “Joey” Jones, who was wounded in combat. He will share his story of triumph and gratitude over his life-changing injury and disability. Joey’s story lines up with Encompass’ mission of helping people get back on their feet, even though he lost both of his legs.
If you would like to get on board with the mission of changing lives at Encompass Ministries, visit encompassministriesinc.org. Encompass is still growing, and the biggest need is a new building with more space.
To learn more, volunteer, donate or sign up for the celebration gala, visit the website or follow the nonprofit on social media.
– Susan Schulz is a Bible teacher and mentor who lives and plays on the Etowah River in Canton. Connect with her on social media or at susanbrowningschulz.com.