The pressures of the pandemic in the United States has caused unexpected food scarcity for many families, but churches are responding to the needs of their communities.
As we pass the one year mark of the worldwide pandemic, the story emerging is one that the church has known all along: more profound than our human differences are God-given commonalities like the need for food, water, shelter and hope.
COVID-19 has lingered long past what most imagined; and with the shutdown of local businesses devastating communities nationwide, the number of people in the United States seeking food assistance has increased by 55 precent in less than a year.
World Challenge has partnered with CityServe to assist those who have unmet food needs, lack transportation, have physical limitations or have fallen between the cracks of a stressed system. Our partners have reached this group by empowering churches to serve their communities with food and a healthy dose of hope. This has become especially crucial with families who have never experienced these particular hardships and struggle with feelings of inadequacy, deep frustration and depression.
A Shifting Demographic of Need
More and more families that have never had to worry about how they will purchase food are finding that they are now struggling to fulfill basic needs.
Before the pandemic, Rosemary Evans, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Bessemer for over 30 years, focused on helping families unable to afford healthcare. As the leader of the congregation’s “Health & Temperance” ministry, Rosemary planned events such as health fairs and glucose screenings. These days, though, the essential needs have shifted. “Now getting food has become most important,” Rosemary says. “It’s a need for basic survival.”
This shift in the type of need isn’t all that’s changed. In places like Mobile, Alabama, churches are also seeing a growing number of people who have never needed governmental food assistance cue up in their food distribution lines.
Travis Johnson, lead pastor of Pathway Church, shared how those who have and those who don’t are meeting somewhere in the middle, namely his church parking lot. “This season is different,” observed Johnson. “I have seen people in beautiful SUVs get in that line, and I know they’ve never been in a line like this before…. Even someone’s previous year’s income, that sort of thing, does not reflect their present reality.”
Indeed, our present reality is different than it was even at the outset of the pandemic. Feeding America reports that roughly 4 in 10 people currently utilizing food banks have never done so before.
The challenge that America is facing providing nutritious food for those dealing with reduced work hours or outright joblessness has been unanticipated.
A Taste of Compassion
Churches are bridging the gap in the food supply chain with our partner’s help. They function as distribution centers for the program.
Pastor Travis Johnson reflects on the process of moving 1,300 thirty-pound food boxes from truck to trunk in what has now become a finely choreographed ministry. “We start at 9 a.m., and we line cars up in about four lines then release an entire row of four to five cars. We have pallets stacked between rows with one volunteer per car, and each car gets a box and a brochure of our services. Then they can opt into a fifth line which is a prayer line.”
Though neighbors might show up to a church parking lot for a food box, they are also receiving an offer of prayer and hope beyond the box.
The size and precision of this distribution center allows for a large-scale impact in the community, and any church can make a big impact. Another, smaller congregation is also reaching out to neighbors in Bessemer and creating connections through the personal delivery of food boxes.
Recently, a church group showed up to ten different households in desperate need of food. The recipients included a single mom, a woman recovering from surgery and several seniors. Some were so hungry that they opened their box right on their porch and started eating.
In the Bible, we’re told that the early church took care of their members in a similar fashion. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32, ESV). With our partner’s distribution model, local churches are better able to fulfill that call, offering all they have to one another with compassion.