Over the last couple of years, we have had the distinct pleasure of learning a great deal about the operations of food rescue programs and food pantries. And, we have been fortunate to work alongside some people with sincere hearts for ministry and yet are completely unconstrained by conventional wisdom for how a food pantry should be operated. Because of their heart for the families they serve, they have continued to ask the hard questions: Why has it always been done that way? How can we better serve these families? How do we need to change how we operate to better serve these families long-term? How can we equip these families to re-establish their independence?
Steve and Suellen Daniels at Meals by Grace identified a group of families that sincerely needed food assistance. They put together meals for the families and invited them to come by and pick them up. When several families did show up for the food, they asked why not. A social worker assisting them provided the answer. Those families did not own a car. They had no way to come pick up the food. Their response? This is a broken model. Let's come up with a solution that meets their needs. Now, they prepare a hot meal and a weeks worth of groceries for the families they serve and then deliver them to their homes. This also provides the volunteers an opportunity to interact with the families in their homes, and they can observe other needs the family may have. They notice an infant in the house - they probably need diapers and formula. Discussions begin. One family mentioned they were struggling accepting food, but the father was having trouble getting a job. He was a construction worker but did not own any steel-toed boots. Everywhere he had applied required steel-toed boots. They provided the family food, secured the father a pair of steel-toed boots, and helped the family restore their independence and dignity. They tailor the weekly groceries to each families specific size and needs. Every time someone talks to me about starting a food pantry, I tell them they need to volunteer at Meals by Grace and see their model in action.
For years, we have heard about well meaning churches requiring needy families to attend a service before receiving assistance. And, honestly, I have always thought that was backwards. I also could never find where that was scriptural. Why not just help the hurting families that are in front of you? Greater Heights Baptist Church launched the John 6:35 food pantry this year, and we pledged our assistance in any way we could help. We provided suggestions including contact information for the folks at Meals by Grace, local social workers, and the food bank. We recommended they acquire refrigerators and freezers, so that we could provide them perishables and set them up with bread deliveries. After the canned good drive at the local Fair, we delivered them a pallet of canned goods, and they were up and running. They have since began offering financial management classes and assisting with job placement. What have they seen since they began providing food to struggling families in the community with no strings attached? They have seen a steady increase in attendance, families going back to work, and regaining their independence. That is right. A church that did not fret over the numbers! They just set out doing what they believed they were commissioned to do - help struggling families.
All the stuff we learned in school about the hierarchy of needs - it is true. Physical needs usually are accompanied with emotional needs, and spiritual needs. But you cannot start trying to address someone's spiritual and emotional issues when they are starving. If they have not eaten in four days, they are not going to be able to pay any attention in an hour long church service waiting to fill their bellies. So, they got it right. Feed them. Love on them. Demonstrate the love God has shown in our lives. Provide the rest when they are ready.
These are just two of the food pantries that Feed Forsyth provides food, but their stories are very encouraging. It is a real pleasure to serve our community alongside these kinds of ministries.