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Rachael Hatley

Giving needy kids food and family

Being the Change

By Megan Gieske

Rachael Hatley and her husband are children’s pastors in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the weekly youth group has become a safe place for children with unstable home lives. Hatley says, “When we find out about a pressing need, we do what we can to help meet that need.”

Every Wednesday night, about thirty children from preschool to high school come to Hatley’s church through their bus ministry, which they call “Wheels.” Those who come hungry are served dinner that night. They’re also given a bag of child-friendly groceries for their families—which means those in situations of neglect can also cook for themselves that week.

Most of these children come from families in which parents are negligent or addicted to drugs. Hatley says, “Some of the kids just want an escape from the domestic violence and drug use of their parents, and to be in a happy place for a few hours. It’s been great to be able to provide that for them.”

Hatley’s tutoring and mentorship programs mimic a normal family experience. Hatley says, “You have to give them more than food. If you really want these kids’ lives to change,” Hatley says. “You have to provide a new view of family.” The children need stable relationships in their lives with adults who love them and are looking out for them.  According to Hatley, “That’s where the most change comes from. When people can tell you care about them, everything changes.”

When asked how it all began, Hatley says, “We had our church start a food pantry. One Sunday, we found out kids had walked to the church asking for food from the apartment complex nearby. The youngest, two years old, had walked across four lanes of traffic just for food.”

This food ministry began in 2011 with just three children—and Rachael Hatley and her husband adopted two of them. Their two oldest boys had become wards of the state when their mother abandoned them. Later, the state terminated her rights to them. Their mother had been abusing drugs and neglecting her children for months at a time. Someone finally found them walking to the church to ask for food.

Hatley’s adopted children have experienced abuse, neglect, violence, and even witnessed a shooting outside their apartment complex. “It is rewarding when you see their defenses break down and they do start to trust you,” Hatley says. With the children at the food ministry on Wednesday nights, who’ve only experienced abandonment instead of love, it’s amazing to see them have fun and hear them say, “I’m going to come back next week.”

Through these last four years, Hatley has sometimes been told that she can’t change anything. But she’s changed the lives of many of her community’s children regardless. “When you do certain little things, and a lot of little things, it all adds up to make a difference,” she says. “Everybody can do a little something to make a difference.”