Through the blessings of donors and a partnership with Anabaptist Covid-19 Response and Blessings of Hope, Believers in Jesus Church has both handed out food boxes ourselves and have been around others who have distributed lunch boxes and food boxes. I have given out more boxes of food in the past few weeks than I have given out in my entire life up to this point. God opened a door through ACR (Anabaptist Covid-19 Response) and we ran (did He push us?) through it. Eventually we should be able to slowly walk down this narrow path, but sometimes it feels almost like we are hurtling along on a turbo conveyor belt.
Up until a month ago, I was mostly ambivalent and sometimes skeptical of food pantry and soup kitchen ministries in New York City. I mean, this city has so much access to food, and there seem to be a number of food pantries scattered here and there. I discovered while at Followers of Jesus School and analyzing the income of school families that for a family with six children, the federal food stamp program gives several hundred dollars a month MORE than our family’s monthly food budget. By God’s grace, we never needed to collect food stamps, but it was my understanding that needy families had that safety net to apply for food stamps, so in my mind food was not a real need here.
These last few weeks of food distribution have brought me to a humbling new realization. There are definitely individuals and families in New York City who are living with food scarcity. Others do not have access to healthy and nutritious food options. This current COVID-19 crisis has accentuated the problem, but I’m afraid I have been out of touch with the dark underside of the food scarcity issue here in New York City. Especially for immigrant individuals and families who do not have access to the typical safety nets available for other low-income citizens, the teaching in II Thessalonians 3 is a harsh new reality “"If a man will not work, he shall not eat." You know the day laborers who wait outside The Home Depot? They aren’t getting work these days. They don’t work, they don’t eat. They don’t get ANY cash, day after day, and they don’t have access to unemployment benefits, and they probably can’t get back to their countries. Many of them have families they support here, or maybe “supported” is more accurate.
And then there are the lower-income working class American citizens. Here in New York, a man and his wife could each be working 40 hours a week on some entry-level job and just barely making enough to pay their rent, utilities, food, and other things. In too many cases, the entry-level jobs at “Non-essential” businesses have been lost over the past five weeks, and these missing paychecks are putting a hurt on households. From what I can see, those who were already on complete government assistance for rent, utilities, food stamps, and welfare checks before COVID-19 may be the least affected by this crisis—their checks will likely still be coming. It’s the lower income working class people, both those undocumented AND those documented, who are hitting a crisis of food shortage or food quality. Maybe they have food to eat, so it may not be always a food scarcity issue, but the quality of food and the healthiness of the diet is very poor.
Brianna did a report on homelessness for one of her college classes last fall, and we talked about the surprising statistic that up to 40% of American households (New York City and otherwise) are living paycheck-to-paycheck. For some, if they miss two successive paychecks, they face the imminent possibility of homelessness if there is no intervention.
I am sure this issue of food scarcity is showing up all across America and around the world. I’ve been reading Revelation again. Could it be that the horseman of Revelation 6:5-6, seemingly unleashing economic collapse, is upon us? That last question is not intended to make the Christian quake in fear, but at the least we can ask ourselves “How now shall we live?” What about the local town or city near you? What about your neighbors?
In the past month or so, Believers in Jesus Church has been given over $5,000 towards relief efforts in this COVID-19 Crisis. In the first week of the option to serve meals to medical workers and EMS workers, we were able to do that some as a local church. We also were able to financially assist a sister church in South Brooklyn to do this, assist a brother with rent whose business has taken a 70% hit in revenue, and partner directly with Blessings of Hope. Thank God, we still have funds available to continue serving our community, and thank God for the generosity of those who have given!
This weekend, we received an incredible update from the Anabaptist Covid-19 Response team that outlines what they have done so far in New York City. The “Food Boxes for Families” have gone out to pastors and churches in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and also in Mount Vernon, NY (a city just north of us in Westchester County). This is way more than I ever imagined would happen. Of the total 1,908 Food Boxes given out, Believers in Jesus Church has only handled a fraction. There are currently four young men volunteering full-time to distribute lunches to healthcare workers and food boxes to churches around the city, and many others are helping as they are able.
Anabaptist Covid-19 Response numbers as of 04/19/2020
9,187 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,908 Food Boxes for Families
With New York State being on Shutdown Order to May 15 here are the ACR tentative plans:
*Next week starting 04/20/20*
5,000 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,650 Food Boxes for Families
*Week starting 04/27/20*
2,500 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,000 Food Boxes for Families
Assist C.A.M. with arranging transportation/distribution of food boxes they are packing (more to come on that later)
*Week starting 05/04/20*
2,000 Lunches for Healthcare Workers
1,000 Food Boxes for Families
Assist C.A.M. with arranging transportation/distribution of food boxes they are packing(more to come on that later)
Probably be wrapping up May 15 or so.
So that is somewhat of an update on the food distribution. Time does not permit me to tell of Pastor Felix in Mt. Vernon, New York, who has so many people coming by that the 10 boxes we give him a day he opens up and hands out items to people to “stretch” the boxes, or of Hafsa, Sandy’s Muslim friend who took 10 boxes last week to give to her friends (we just needed to take out some items that would not be Muslim-friendly, or of L, who took a box from friends who persuaded her in December not to abort her baby. If Christians are going to convince a young woman not to abort her baby, can Christians rise up to help her with food for her baby? Or our neighbor S, who lives in the house right beside us, has been so happy to give two food boxes a week to her sister F, who has lost her job in this COVID-19 crisis and is raising two children.
My refrigerator remains mostly full. We have more than we need to eat. I have taken food for granted.
My friend Ike took a box of food to his elderly neighbor. She stood on the stoop and said “I have been young, but now I am old, and I have never seen the righteous forsaken.” She paused for a moment to smile at him, and he finished it for her… “Or their seed begging for bread.” We will not be able to meet all the needs. But we will bless in the name of Jesus and do good to all people, especially unto those who are of the household of faith.
These last weeks of ministry opportunity have been an incredible partnership with the family of God. I wonder if God will lead us to start a food pantry here in The Bronx? That would be like God. Sending me through a door and pushing me down a road I never imagined. What did Rich Mullins say? “God is like the kid who punches you in the face and then gives you a ride home on his bike.” Something like that. When I was 14, it was “I will go live in the mountains of West Virginia or Kentucky with my cousin Joe because there are too many people in Huntsburg, Ohio.” Then I thought I would become an architect, then I went to college to become an English teacher, then God led me to become a pastor. Now I am a bi-vocational pastor, working as an insurance adjuster to pay the bills. Maybe “Food pantry guy” is somewhere down the road soon.