By Kathryn Rice

The Ministry Center Director Merlin Atkins has announced his retirement as of Tuesday, October 31.

His replacement will be Tim Deen, Maryville, who begins his tenure as director Wednesday, November 1. Deen has volunteered at the center and went to school with Merlin’s oldest son. Deen has been approved by The Ministry Center board.

Atkins along with his wife, Kay, has worked at The Ministry Center since its opening in January 1999. Atkins became director when Rod and Sharon Shain retired from the position after eight years of service. He estimates this was some time between 2011 and 2013. He became a paid director about five years ago.

Kay started volunteering at the food pantry in 1995 or 96 when it was at the Agape House by the First United Methodist Church. By 1997, Merlin was on the Ministerial Alliance Board working to start The Ministry Center.

“There’s a lot more work now than we used to have,” Atkins said.

Changes at The Ministry Center since Atkins began include giving 40,000 pounds a year at the beginning to 450,000 pounds now.

The food is handled three times. It is weighed when it comes, put on the shelves in the back storeroom, then stocked on shelves for the clients to select and then oftentimes even carried to their car.

Families can come for food once a month if they qualify for supplies. During the summer, the brown bag program gives an extra bag of groceries for each child. When the program started there were 100 bags given out each month. This past summer there were 400 bags given each month.

Atkins attributes the success of The Ministry Center to the “lots and lots of wonderful” volunteers. Each day the center is open, there is a minimum need for eight to 10 volunteers. Atkins mentions volunteer Alice Keller who “was very faithful and always here.” She volunteered for 10 to 12 years but has recently moved from Maryville.

Another volunteer, Dave Weichinger, does the end of the month paperwork to send to Second Harvest Community Food Bank, St. Joseph.

The Ministry Center receives canned food donations from all of the county schools. This week St. Gregory School is running a food drive. Area organizations donate year round.

“We have donors in the county who have a good heart and know what makes a community work,” he said.

The Ministry Center can make monetary donations stretch further than an individual can of food. It purchases goods from Second Harvest at a fraction of the grocery store cost. If food is purchased from the supermarkets, The Ministry Center is tax exempt.

Hy-Vee donates 1,200 to 1,800 pounds of bread weekly. Walmart donates 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of bread and meat weekly. There is up to 350 pounds of meat donated by Walmart. This bread goes to area churches for distribution.

Atkins is a hands-on director who built the shelves in the back room. He and Bob Nelsen built the office area enclosures. Joe Ford and Atkins built the outside buildings. He is proud of the fact that he is leaving The Ministry Center debt free and with backup savings.

The Ministry Center is open from 1:30 to 3:30 pm, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 6 to 8 pm, Tuesday evenings. The Ministry Center will not be open Halloween, Tuesday, October 31.

Atkins plans for retirement include resting. He’s worked for 65 years, seven days a week and never was sick enough to miss a day of work. He also plans to volunteer some.

“They have my number,” Atkins said, referring to The Ministry Center.


Atkins Retirement Party will be celebrated from 2 to 4 pm, Saturday, October 28 at the First United Methodist Church, 102 North Main Street, Maryville.