CLARKSVILLE — A little church already known for helping Clarksville battle an old foe is at it again.
Clarksville United Methodist feeds the growing number of people working to keep the Mississippi River from flooding a town where the business district, many homes and a major highway are vulnerable.
It’s nothing new for the small congregation. Five of the top 10 inundations in Clarksville’s 202-year history have taken place since 2001. The latest forecast calls for the water to rise almost seven feet above flood stage before a crest next week, with predictions of even greater trouble in April if melting snow to the north and mixes with widespread rainfall.
At one meal, women prisoners and volunteers who came from other parts of Missouri as well as Illinois shared chili, sandwiches and fruit.
“Jesus’ commandment was to feed the hungry and the poor,” said Janie Busch, one of the meal organizers. “We have a bunch of hungry people here — not just for food, but for connection with each other. There’s no way I can sandbag, but I can cook.”
Erin Garrison and her husband, Bud, own Great River Road Pottery and Wood Shop along First Street, where a seven-foot earthen dam topped with plastic and sandbags has been put into place to keep the water out. Their house is just around the corner.
Garrison realizes both could be in peril, but as she moves around the church’s basement kitchen filling trays or cleaning counters, she refuses to let her sense of Christian duty be overwhelmed.
“I think it’s Sunday mornings upstairs in that sanctuary,” Garrison says of the source for her commitment. “I’m here because these folks need to eat.”
Linda Blakey is well-known cook and community volunteer, the Clarksville native has seen more than her share of high water, but she quickly tears up when talking about the sacrifices being made to keep her hometown dry.
“That’s what you do when you live here — help other people out,” Blakey said.
“Anybody who has their head screwed on right loves Clarksville.” Garrison added.
The 111-year-old church building is at the corner of Highway 79 and Howard Street, at a safe enough elevation that even the two worst floods — 1993 and 1973, respectively — did not dampen its doorstep.
The parish received international media attention after serving volunteers who came from other countries to battle the third-worst flood in 2008. Since then, the kitchen has been updated and expanded to better serve crowds.
In 2013 — the year of the fourth-worst flood — three daily meals were served for more than six weeks. The Missouri National Guard 175th Military Police Battalion showed its appreciation by presenting an award to the church for its contributions.
So far in 2019, the church is only serving at noon each day and has not had to seek donations, but Busch and others know from experience that additional meals and contributions may be needed if flooding becomes a bigger threat. Sixty people were fed on the first day, with the number growing to 80 just 24 hours later.
The church has postponed a fish fry scheduled for March 22, because “the Mississippi River has other plans for us,” Busch said. “The river will let us know when to reschedule.”
As she paused for a moment after cutting a loaf of bread, Busch said she’s confident God will provide if the pantry shelves are depleted.
“It’s been my experience that most everyone steps up to the occasion,” she said. “We ask for donations of time, money and food — but especially prayers.”