In the rural town of Butler, Missouri—birthplace of author and libertarian thinker Robert A. Heinlein—we found a small Christian bookstore with a big mission. Not only does The Carpenter’s Cup sell books, gifts, décor, and have a full hot and cold beverage menu ranging from coffee to fruit smoothies: they are also a major hub of charity for Bates County.
I spoke with Becky, one of the founders and owners. When I asked her who got the bookstore started, she said: “God did.” Becky and her sister Phyllis were both working as registered nurses when Becky felt inspired that someone should start a Christian bookstore in town. At the end of 2015, Becky quit her job as a nurse and took the leap of faith to get her bookstore dream started and christened it The Carpenter’s Cup. Her sister Phyllis and their 90 year-old mother also work in the store.
Almost immediately, people in need began flocking to the new Christian bookstore for help with food, bills, clothing, and other necessities. Becky says she thinks they thought it was a church at first. The local Ministry Alliance of pastors from various churches asked if they could hand out utility vouchers at her bookstore. She only agreed after they promised that background checks at the police station would no longer be required for the vouchers, and there would be no policing of the morality of the needy people as well. “That’s none of my business,” she said, referring to Christ’s ministry feeding the hungry and helping people no matter how righteous or wicked other people thought they were.
There is great need in the Bates County area. But as Becky says, “a lot of people want to help, they just don’t know how.” The Carpenter’s Cup now facilitates all kinds of charitable programs. They began Project Hand Up, a 501c3 dedicated to assisting the needy. They have a Blessings Box outside their door—a cabinet someone built and donated for people to put shelf-stable food into and take as needed. Inside, they have fridge space for perishable food donations. In this rural setting, many people bring produce straight from their gardens and eggs from their own backyard chickens and ducks. Even the local Walmart sends food donations monthly, and if anything is expired, the food is still usable to people who keep chickens or other livestock.
I asked Becky how they made it through the Covid lockdowns. She said people volunteered to pay their rent and utility bills while they had to close. And even though they were closed, people still brought in food and entire prepared meals for the needy. People in need would come pick up the food, or if they couldn’t, a volunteer would deliver it. In the summer of 2020, they began a lunch program for school-aged children. This soon expanded to anyone who needed lunch. The food is provided by individual donors as well as the local Sonic and McDonald’s, and then served at the local park and the town square. Becky estimates they served 4000 lunches that summer.
The Carpenter’s Cup also provides backpacks with school supplies for families in need, and when they can get enough donations, new shoes and socks for school-aged children. For Thanksgiving, they fill laundry baskets with a turkey and all the ingredients for a delicious Thanksgiving feast for people to pick up. Last Thanksgiving (2022), they provided 500 meals. In the winter, they collect coats and warm gear for the homeless, working in conjunction with Jeff Moore, whom VIA donors assisted with this effort last winter (February 2023). In the summer, they collect fans and small air conditioning units to distribute.
In this blazing Missouri summer, The Carpenter’s Cup greets you with a handwritten sign on its door stating: “FREE ICE WATER.” The bookstore has had people sleep on its store floor before. Becky laments that there is not a homeless shelter in Bates County—it’s a sore need that has yet to be filled with numerous homeless camps in the area. But they do what they can, and the impact is widely felt. It’s sad to see so much need, but heartening to see so many people who want to help and have done so much without government coercion.