By Katy Hagerman
Oaklawn Church of God is following the passage from James 2:16-17, which says, “If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” After learning that one in four students attending the school located near the church eat only one meal a day, which is the one they receive at school, they knew that hunger in their community was a big issue. This helped Oaklawn see Jesus’ vision for meeting a specific need in their own community. Their food pantry has been operating since 2010, and serves on average sixty to one hundred families each month.
One day a month, five volunteers come together to help prepare the boxes of food that are stocked in the pantry. Each box typically includes enough food to feed a family of four for a week. Oaklawn has a contract with the Arkansas Food Bank, where they purchase food for a fraction of what it would cost wholesale. The church and community members are still encouraged to donate funds or food to the ministry, and all donations are appreciated. When the pantry is open, six to eight volunteers help by greeting, checking people in, praying, and carrying boxes to vehicles.
These volunteers grow spiritually as they see how God provides for others using his church, and recognize their spiritual gift of serving as being an active member of the body of Christ. Even though the pantry will occasionally receive a grateful note or card, people often express their gratitude face-to-face. They often have “Praise Parties” when someone is especially emotional, and prayer is a very large part of the food pantry ministry. Linvel Arington, a retired Church of God pastor who is 101 years old, leads the prayer initiative in this ministry.
If you would like to start a food pantry in your church, pastor Steve Nelson said the first step is prayer. This ministry should be born from prayer, and continually bathed in prayer. Once you are certain of the direction Jesus is leading you, designate a leader who can form a small team. One key is to learn from others. Go to other nearby pantries and ask them questions. Find out how they do what they do, and what they have learned along the way. You will also need to find out what rules apply to your community regarding a food pantry. But in anything you do, putting your faith into action and your hope in Jesus, remember the Lord’s words: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (from Matt 25:40).”
Katy Hagerman is a communication intern for Church of God Ministries from Lapel, Indiana. She is currently studying English at Anderson University. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.