By Liz Johnson, Gift Planner
Even the most generous of among us appreciate the volunteers of St. Paul’s Lutheran, who live the words of Jesus with their concerns for the hungry in their own community: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)
“How can we do otherwise?” says volunteer director Lorrie Andrews. When asked about how the ministry evolved as a community outreach of St. Paul’s, she explains, “We have always had a ‘pantry’. Food available to those in need has been a part of who we are as a family of faith for a long time. However, once we began working directly with the Houston Food Bank to purchase food, our ministry became a labor of love that lasts all week. We begin the process of food acquisition as soon as the food is distributed on Thursday and work all week to do it again the following Thursday,” she explains.
Although the volunteers who work diligently all week long to ensure community members who come on Thursdays get their immediate food needs met for their family, they want no credit for themselves. It is a labor of love throughout the week, but especially on Thursdays when the gates open and the needs of the community are so apparent. This ministry that began in earnest in 2012, the volunteers have learned many efficient, effective ways to make the process of food distribution a pleasant one. Cards are distributed to the first 100 people in line. That way, no one waits needlessly since 100 bundles of food are the goal to provide each week.
St. Paul’s follows the Houston Food Bank rules to distribute goods. Individuals who receive food twice a month must provide identification and verification of need. Social services employees are sometimes on location to help with promotion of dental, medical, CHIP, SNAP, and other programs. Careful records are kept so that the program has accurate data about the services provided. Volunteers and their commitment to the needs of others sustain the program.
In addition to the purchases from the Houston Food Bank, area restaurants and food stores support their efforts. Volunteers take responsibility for picking up the donations each week. The process is time-consuming and a great responsibility. When asked what keeps her going week after week with so much expected by those who count on the food distribution, Lorrie Andrews simply answers, “When I was hungry you gave me food.” Her words indicate the real motivation she feels in making the distribution possible week after week; it is a labor of love in the name of Jesus. Motivated by her faith, Lorrie and the volunteers see the ministry as a way to live out their faith. By serving the needs of others, they do as the Lord Jesus would have all of us do – treat others as we would want to be treated in less than the ideal situations of life.
St. Paul’s volunteers meet the physical needs of community members who have limited resources, but they are also concerned about their spiritual needs too. Their ultimate desire is that these individuals know and love the Lord. One way the volunteer staff demonstrate concern for the individuals who come for food is to pray openly with them. Just before the gates open for food, Lorrie comes out and announces they will be opening their doors soon. She leads everyone in prayer; everyone listens respectfully. Some of those gathered pray with her and know her as a friend. She and others listen to their concerns and instead of indicating they will add them to a prayer list, they pray for their needs on site and at the time the need is expressed.
Those handling the identification and database try to meet needs in other ways too. Vincent, a food recipient says, “I’m taking care of my father and am disabled myself. I am so grateful for this help. At one time, I was the one giving help, but now I’m receiving it. Time can turn quickly. You never know.”
Every recipient has a story and St. Paul’s ministry makes a difference for each one.