Global Hunger Relief: One Association’s Story

woman putting food in a paper bag

“Words can never thank you enough for reminding me that God loves me and has great plans for me. You see, I was homeless, living in the woods with no food, no hope, and freezing cold in the winter.” These words of testimony were written to Operation Care last year in a 4-page letter of thanks for this ministry.

“One morning a lady named Lori came and woke me up and said . . . she would take me somewhere that I could get help. . . . When we arrived, a lady named Martha came out, hugged me, and said, ‘You are freezing. Come in, get warm, and eat a snack.’ She held my face in her hands and said what would change my life forever: ‘Honey, God loves you, and so do I.’”

“That single act of kindness has changed my life,” Anita Bricker said. Through the ministry of Operation Care, a ministry of Palmetto Baptist Association in Williamston, South Carolina, Bricker has reunited with her family, gone back to college, and remained drug-free.

Operation Care got its start in 1995 with a ministry called Tree of Love located in Palmetto Association’s office. Kathy Cannon, associational family ministry director at the time, felt God’s leadership to reach out to the community in providing Christmas gifts for needy children. That year, Palmetto Association served nearly 250 children. When it delivered the presents, many parents asked if there was also food.

Palmetto Association quickly realized food was not just something needed for Christmas. In 1999, an empty parsonage was made available for a food bank and clothes closet. Operation Care quickly began ministering to 150–200 families a month. Since its inception, Operation Care has served more than 3,000 families at least once and has seen more than 300 salvations.

Operation Care moved to the campus of Palmetto Association in 2005. This location is more convenient and allows the ministry to serve the community better. Operation Care is open every day from 9 to 11 a.m. Thirteen volunteers work in the office and distribute bags of groceries. While clients wait their turn, volunteers share Christ. New clients receive a Bible, and the nearest church is contacted for follow-up.

Operation Care also assists clients in finding jobs and paying utilities if funds are available. Martha, the “resident greeter,” serves up snacks and coffee for everyone. The ministry volunteers seek to become friends with the clients, many of whom are senior adults who rely on Operation Care to live every day. Children have an area to color and play.

Great Need

There is a great need for hunger ministries around the world, including in the United States. Food insecurity affects many households and is often a hidden problem. While school meal programs and weekend food bags help, many still do not have enough food. Undernourished children do not learn well. Undernourished adults find work difficult. Undernourished senior adults often choose to go without food in order to cover other basic expenses (such as medicine).

The words of Jesus, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” (Matt. 25:35) ring true at Operation Care and in hunger ministries in many places. These ministries are led by churches and associations to provide food assistance and alleviate conditions that lead to hunger. While meeting immediate needs paves the way for gospel conversations, moving from relief to development is critical. “It is easy to set up a hunger ministry,” said Jon Jamison, compassion ministry leader for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, “but we need to move from relief to a development mind-set. Long-term relationships are key to addressing deeper issues.”

Gospel Opportunities

Hunger relief ministries provide many opportunities for sharing the gospel. Mike Baker, director of missions for Palmetto Association, reported that in 2018, through the ministry of Operation Care, he had 281 evangelistic contacts and the staff had many more. Six were saved, many were counseled about life, and 4 men were helped to get needed jobs to earn their own way.

Monthly reports from hunger ministries across South Carolina report not only households served but also professions of faith and baptisms. Sharing the gospel is the ultimate goal of a hunger ministry.

“God plants us in a town for a reason,” Cannon said. “So many little towns fall into the cracks. This is a wonderful avenue for sharing the gospel.”

Support Hunger Relief Ministries

  • Pray for gospel conversations each day at hunger ministry sites.
  • Pray for volunteers as they work with clients, sort food, prepare food bags, and share the gospel.
  • Pray for people to be open to the gospel when they come for food.
  • Pray for follow-up by area churches to engage individuals and families in spiritual growth and discipleship.
  • Pray for hunger ministries to move from just meeting immediate needs to deeper work with individuals and families.
  • Pray for new hunger ministries to be started.
  • Give to the Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief Fund through your church, your state convention, or online. Funds are divided between international and North American needs.

Joy Bolton serves as WMU churchwide and associational lead strategist for WMU.


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