Fighting Food Insecurity: Small Church Seizes Opportunity for Big Impact

 In All Church of God, Change the Story, CHOG, Great Lakes

By Kim Ousley

Food insecurity has grown exponentially since the pandemic began. Many have lost jobs who were already struggling. Schools went virtual and students, who normally would get at least breakfast and lunch, no longer had that daily opportunity. Communities started realizing how many families, homeless, and seniors were going without the basic necessities. Thankfully, food pantries ministering out of local churches have proved invaluable, as have their smaller counterparts—food boxes.

Stroh Church of God in Stroh, Indiana, installed one of these food boxes in front of their building. There’s a sign with a message for a guest to feel free to take what one needs from the little food box. In a small, rural community of 8,732 people (Census 2019), the need is still high.

Jeff Berry

Jeff Berry, pastor of Stroh Church of God, spoke earlier this year to his congregation about finding a way to minister to their neighbors during the pandemic. At first, his message fell on a very quiet congregation. Being a small church, it may have seemed insurmountable with only a few of the same volunteers helping with different weekly and monthly projects. But, in stepped Candy Beltz, the church secretary/treasurer.

Pastor Jeff explains: “I kept telling our folks, ‘We can do something.’ I mentioned for several months ideas that other churches are doing. Candy stepped up.”

Candy shares, “Jeff has been pushing more community ministry for quite some time, but it just wasn’t catching on. After I saw a number of food boxes in other localities, I began wondering why it wouldn’t work for us.” She planted seeds initially to get the whole project rolling. There was a canned food drive in July during the 5K run this year. “This started the pantry!”

Eventually, several volunteers stepped up to build the food box, collect food and get the word out within the community. The sign reads “Community Food Pantry.” The pastor posted on Facebook and it took off from there. Local people were asking how to donate to their little food pantry. Many weren’t part of the congregation but just neighbors wanting to help.

“That warmed our hearts even more,” Candy explains. She and her husband, Dave, oversee the restocking of the food box. Right now, due to cold weather, they have moved all canned goods or anything that might freeze inside the church building. “There’s a phone number for them to call and we will gladly take them inside to get what they need.”

What keeps her motivated during this time? “Oh, my goodness!” she exclaims. “We have had great success with food disappearing from our Food Pantry. That in itself is my motivation.” Candy shares that this has surpassed anything that she thought would happen. They restock the pantry about three to four times per week. “No, it isn’t entirely empty, but I want to keep as much assortment there as we can,” she explains. If she sees any bare spots, she fills them. “It’s a sort of mental game,” she continues, “to us to guess which items will be gone the next visit…and then I’m actually surprised what is actually missing. I really love being able to help our community in this simple way.”

Cathy says that right inside the church entrance there is both a “dollar box” and a “blessing basket.” The dollar box is for monetary donations and the basket is for donated goods, such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.

“We have created welcome baskets for new neighbors,” she continues. “We have given out gift cards for our local gas station and Dollar General store.” And, every year, the church sponsors local families at Christmas (through the local school corporation). They also support the school athletic teams in various ways and local youth baseball teams with sponsorship and “free hot dog days.” There are so many opportunities to serve in a small community with big needs.

Cathy encourages everyone to “always be aware of your surroundings and do what you feel is best for you and yours.” She reflects, “The COVID-19 pandemic has touched each of us to different degrees,” Cathy shares. “We just need to remember that faith [is greater than] COVID!”

Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of recent crises:

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

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