Leading food pantry closes, continues ministry to elderly

San Antonio residents who needed food often lined up hours in advance to receive assistance at the Redeeming Grace food pantry, which closed its doors at the end of December due to lack of finances. (PHOTO/Courtesy of Redeeming Grace food pantry)

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SAN ANTONIO—As 2013 came to an end, one of San Antonio’s largest food pantries followed suit. The food pantry at Redeeming Grace Christian Church—a Texas Baptist congregation—officially shut down.

foodbank inside400Volunteers sorted groceries at the Redeeming Grace food pantry. The food pantry—one of San Antonio’s largest—shut its doors at the end of the year. (PHOTOS/Courtesy of Redeeming Grace food pantry)

Marion Thomas, director of the pantry, said the ministry lacked sufficient funding to continue operations, and the sponsoring church’s resources are stretched to the limit as the congregation seeks to complete construction of a new facility.

“When you go into a building program, giving isn’t as spontaneous as it should be. … We are having to try to concentrate on getting this new building done,” Pastor Brent Bryant said. The church hopes to complete its building project by the end of the year, he added.

For seven years, San Antonio residents relied on the Redeeming Grace food pantry, and the ministry received regional and statewide honors for the scope of its work, including recognition from the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. In 2013, volunteers served more than 71,000 people.

Bryant knew the decision to close the pantry would affect numerous people, but the church took into consideration access to other food pantries and distribution centers. Even so, the church did not make the decision lightly, and Bryant noted, “At some point, there is a great possibility we can restart.”

foodpantry boxes400Volunteers provided much of the labor at the Redeeming Grace food pantry, which served the poor in San Antonio seven years before closing operations at the end of 2013.For now, the church offers referrals to other food pantries when people seek assistance.

Since 2006, the food pantry at Redeeming Grace distributed food once a week to anyone in need, including single parents, families, homeless people and disabled veterans. On a normal Wednesday food distribution day, 450 to 500 people received food from at least 40 volunteers.

People often began lining up at the door at 4:30 a.m. on food distribution days to receive food at 2 p.m., Thomas said. The pantry supplied milk, vegetables, cheese, meat, bread and sweets.

“We gave them enough food to sometimes get them through a whole month, but at least two weeks. When they left, they had enough to make a meal right then and there without going to the grocery store,” she said.

The pantry secured most of what it distributed from the San Antonio Food Bank, which provides food to more than 500 partner agencies in 16 counties throughout Southwest Texas. The pantry received some food at no cost, but the majority was purchased at a discounted price, Thomas noted. The pantry received support from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.

foodpantry veggies240Marion Thomas (left), director of the Redeeming Grace food pantry, relied on help from Erika Borrego, chief operations officer at the San Antonio Food Bank, to provide the poor in her area with fruit and vegetables. Although Redeeming Grace Christian Church has closed its food pantry, the congregation will continue to make its facility available to the food pantry to distribute food to senior adults once a month.In addition to its primary operations on Wednesdays, volunteers at Redeeming Grace distributed food to senior citizens on the fourth Thursday of the month.

Although the pantry is closed, the church still will minister to senior citizens through a continued partnership with the San Antonio Food Bank. Once a month, the food bank will use the fellowship hall at Redeeming Grace to provide food to senior adults.

Bryant is encouraging members of his congregation to continue to serve the elderly as volunteers with the food bank, even though the church no longer sponsors its own food pantry.

“We will still be able to feed the elderly,” he said.

Thomas has seen countless lives blessed in the past seven years at Redeeming Grace’s food pantry and has been amazed at God’s grace.

“There have been times I thought we were going to run out (of food), but by the grace of God, we didn’t,” she said. “I have seen so many miracles within our food pantry. We serve an awesome God, and he always comes through for us.”

Although Thomas is retiring from her administrative position at Redeeming Grace, she plans to continue following her passion—helping people in need—as a volunteer with the San Antonio Food Bank.

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