River of Life Food Pantry: How One Church Is Serving the Needy in Jesus’ Name
by Pastor Bill Slack
The River of Life Food Pantry has been a part of our diaconal ministry practically since the church began. It has evolved over the years from an occasional ministry to its present form, serving the community twice a month on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month.
While the distribution itself is about 2 hours, far more hours are needed for that distribution to take place. Orders from NORWESCAP (our primary food provider) have to be placed, food pickups arranged, other sources of food (of which there are quite a few) coordinated with, as well as records of our distribution being maintained and updated and reports filed with NORWESCAP. (https://norwescap.org/)
Along with those responsibilities, we have a few folks who are on “housing” support – which means they have to do community service. The hours they put in also need to be recorded and reported. In all of this, we thank the Lord for providing Stefanie Dowson, our Food Pantry Coordinator extraordinaire! She has been using her administrative gifts to make all of this happen, while holding down a full time job, and sharing life with her husband Robert, who is also her “right hand man” in this ministry!
Before Corona, we would typically have about 110 to 120 family units come to the pantry. In that context, our facility would be “re-fitted” to accommodate those folks who came for food. Tables would be set up with the items on it, and a line would be formed through which people would pass, collecting the items they wanted. Prior to the start of the pantry, I would give a short Gospel presentation and pray for the ministry. During the event, I would be available for prayer as well. In addition, we have our own “Heaven & Hell” machine – a copy of the Boardwalk Chapel’s device which is up and running as well.
That was then… This is now… Owing to Corona, we cannot have that crowd in our building. So we have had to improvise. Now everyone coming for food must remain outside, and line up down the street. We have a sound system set up for announcements and to pray with the people as the ministry begins. We utilize our front doors for the distribution: the first set of doors to sign people in; the second set of doors to distribute the food. On the street outside, Robyn Donaldson, another member volunteer (and another of Stefanie’s right hands!) signs up new recipients, getting the information they need to provide to get food.
In the building about 10 other volunteers are supplementing the bags that were already prepared, adding frozen and refrigerated foods to them. (Notice I said bags that “were prepared.” Stefanie, Robert, Arthur, our deacon and his wife Minda, along with Amy, Henk and Robyn spend hours picking up the food and preparing the bags during the week prior to the pantry). Others move the bags from the tables upon which they were prepared onto rolling shelves, then moving the shelves to the front door for distribution. It is quite an operation!
At the conclusion of the pantry, “Robert’s Transportation”, our local cab company, provides the means to deliver food to about 80 folks who are disabled, or for another reason, unable to come to the pantry. Tammy Lynn, part of our congregation and an employee of “Robert’s” does the delivering. In addition, Will Spencer with “Brothers before Others” delivers to other disabled recipients.
Since the Corona situation began, we have gone from serving 110/120 families to serving 180/200 families. We now have a total of 600 families registered with our food pantry (thankfully, all of them don’t come to every pantry!).
That gives an idea of what our food pantry is doing. Please pray for us! It is with joy that we serve the Lord in this way, but it is wearying! Pray we would not “grow weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9). Thank you!