SAN ANTONIO—When the San Antonio Food Bank made supplies of emergency groceries available, 10,000 cars packed the parking lot—many of them filled with people who have lost their jobs as a result of the shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But for some of the city’s most vulnerable, enduring such a line is impossible. The city’s senior citizens that battle physical limitations daily are stuck making a difficult decision.
“We’ve got about 1,400 families on our list,” said Rob Johnson, pastor of Christian Family Baptist Church. “Most of those families are 60-plus years old. They’re being told to stay at home. But they need food. Now they have to compete with all these other people.”
Seemingly overnight, the congregation retooled its food ministry—which receives ongoing support through the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering—specifically to make sure people aren’t falling through the cracks.
Dramatic increase in food distribution
The church increased distributions from monthly to weekly and scheduled appointments so people can maintain proper social distancing.
For each of the last three weeks, the church has provided food for at least 60 households. A small number of mask-wearing volunteers work like a fine-tuned instrument, orchestrating a delicate balance of efficiency and social distancing. In a matter of minutes, each family is warmly greeted, given bags of food and prayers are offered.
Johnson said the outreach is a targeted effort.
“We see ourselves as a special operation,” he said. “We know there are small groups of people the big system doesn’t work for. That’s what we do.”
On April 21, the church expected to serve 66 families but ended up providing food for 90. The food distribution, scheduled to end around lunchtime, lasted all day.
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TBM provides assistance
The congregation is the first recipient of a grant from Texas Baptist Men to help Texas churches that have seen a drastic rise in the need for food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants aim to help congregations serve more people quickly. Christian Family Baptist Church is using the $1,000 grant to purchase additional food.
TBM Disaster Relief Director Dwain Carter presented the grant to the pastor and joined in serving.
“This is simply amazing what this church has done,” Carter said. “In a matter of days, they saw the drastic increased need in their community, changed everything about their hungry ministry and are meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in the city.
“In Matthew 25, Jesus says whatever we do for the hungry and thirsty we did for him. This congregation is truly serving in the name of Christ in a mighty way. It’s an honor to support them and minister alongside them.”
While Texas leaders are trying to open the state back up for business gradually, the pastor is still seeing new people ask for food. The church will continue to meet the need.
“The new people who are coming are saying ‘I’ve never had to ask for food before,’” Johnson said. “Some people have three to four families in their home.”
TBM seeks to help ‘strategic partners’
As companies have reduced or halted operation during social distancing and shelter at home orders, more than 1.2 million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits. The quickly shifting economic situation has left normally financially stable families looking for assistance.
As a result, demand for food is doubling and tripling in areas. Thousands of cars are lining up each day at drive-thru food distributions at food banks and church ministries statewide.
“This disaster is affecting the entire state,” Carter said. “While medical professionals are on the frontlines of fighting the disease, churches are on the frontlines of meeting the needs of people who suddenly can’t make ends meet. They don’t know how they’re going to feed their children. We pray these grants help ministries deliver help, hope and healing.”
In addition to Christian Family Baptist Church in San Antonio, other TBM grants are being awarded to City Church in Amarillo, the Mission Centers of Houston and Lubbock Impact. Additional ministries and churches also will be given grants as they are identified.
“These are strategic partners that are staples of their communities,” Carter said. “People know them and are turning to them for help and hope. We want to strengthen these efforts through prayer and financial support.”