We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Small Town Servant Shares Big Heart with Community

Crawford, Nebraska, may be a small town but it is where one woman is using her God-given gifts in big ways.
Christ Community Church in Crawford, Nebraska, is a beacon of hope in its small community. Irene Hughes, 20-year member and sound board operator at the church, is one of the bright lights that makes the love of Jesus shine outside its four walls.

Hughes states that she has been a Christian for most of her life and was raised in a Christian household. Her parents instilled in her the values of empathy and hospitality from a young age.

“If someone had a family member pass away, you took them food,” she states. “That’s just what we did.”

These childhood values blossomed into a heart full of compassion in Hughes that longed to care for others. She spent many of her early working years as a nurse and then as an in-home daycare provider.

Yet after 25 years of caring for children, and as Hughes and her late husband, Jim, began to get older, she started to transition out of her role as a daycare provider and began looking for another way to serve.

It was then that Hughes became aware of a restaurant that was being sold, which is not an uncommon occurrence in the small town of less than 1,000 people. Included in the purchase of the establishment, called “Q’s Dairy Sweet”, Hughes also acquired a small building next to the restaurant.

As her business began to grow, Hughes saw an opportunity to bless those who were mourning the loss of a loved one, or those who just needed a little help due to life’s circumstances.

“I want to help ease the extra burden on people when I can,” says Hughes, who prepares baskets for individuals and families whenever she sees a need.

Hughes’ baskets include a homemade meal and paper products that she feels will bless the recipient as well.

“If there’s a family of someone who has died that has family coming in, I want to provide them with extra toilet paper, paper plates, and extra paper towels so they don’t have to worry about those things with guests,” she says.

Additionally, Hughes decided to turn the small building next to her restaurant into a nightly rental for people who were coming to town to see family because the city’s only motel was struggling and becoming inaccessible.

Then, in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to isolate residents of the tight-knit community, Hughes knew that she needed to regularly check in on her friends and neighbors.

“I would go around and pass out homemade cinnamon rolls just to touch base with people and make sure they were ok,” she states.

Following the re-opening of public places after the peak of the pandemic, many businesses did not make it, and many continue to struggle to bounce back from the fractured economy. Most recently, Crawford’s only grocery store announced that it would be closing, leaving residents no place in town to purchase produce, baking goods, or fresh meat.

But Hughes felt the Lord leading her to help her community in a new way.

“I decided to start a little market in the restaurant,” she says, “and sell fresh produce and things that people can’t get anywhere else in town. I want people to get fed and have a place where they can get those things.”

Hughes states that many people in the town are unable to leave due to not having a driver’s license or because of schedule conflicts with the bus, which only runs one day a week. Her plan to keep fresh grocery items available in her store, she believes, will take the burden of finding fresh food off of many residents.

“I’ll also deliver food if people need it,” she says, speaking of the many who are unable to drive. “My gift is to care for and feed people,” she says, “and I’ve been able to touch quite a few people with that gift.”

Steve Mallery, senior pastor of Christ Community Church says, “Irene has a heart to serve the community. She has always considered others before herself. She lives out the command to love God and love people. Despite the economy we are facing, she generously blesses those in Crawford. Her business is an opportunity to practically show others the love of Christ.”

Hughes’ willingness to use her God-given talents and gifts to be the hands of Jesus to her neighbors has made her restaurant a success, not only with locals but with regular groups of truck drivers and railroad workers who frequent the restaurant.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to pray with lots of people,” Hughes remarks. “They come because the portions are big but then I get to pray with them about things and continue to pray with them each time I see them, and they keep coming back.”

Ashley B. Grant

Ashley B. Grant has a master's degree in Human Services Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University and is a credentialed Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Grant also holds certifications in crisis pregnancy counseling and advanced life coaching. Ashley is a fourth generation Assemblies of God preacher’s kid and has one daughter and three sons.