For I Was Hungry: Responding to Food Insecurity and Hunger
COVID-19 has triggered a tsunami of loss—loved ones, revenues, a sense of community—with consequences that include home eviction, mental health challenges, rising poverty rates, and food insecurity, which the United States Department of Agriculture defines as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” It also recognizes food insecurity’s close relative hunger.
Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 34.9 percent of American households considered below the federal poverty line were food insecure, and 13.6 percent of households with children were food insecure. The COVID-19 crisis greatly exacerbated those last two problems.
According to the Household Pulse Survey, the prevalence of food insufficiency (low and very low food sufficiency) among US adults increased 3 percent from April 23 to December 21, 2020.
What should our response to such monumental issues be in light of the Bible?
Begin with the Work through Obedience to God’s Word
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded over and over again to take care of the disadvantaged. They were instructed not to harvest the margins of their land but to allow the poor and aliens, none of whom owned any land, to glean the food that had fallen (Lev. 19:9–10). It is important to remember Leviticus was written as a blueprint to a holy life, a law God’s people were commanded to follow.
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites were again mandated to treat the poor with open hands and to give freely (15:7–11). In the same spirit, Isaiah issued a clear reminder that sharing bread with the hungry comes under the kind of fast God desires (58:6–7). Micah, angered by the exploitation of the poor by those in power, also summoned the people to “act justly,” i.e., do what is right, namely toward the less fortunate (6:8).
In the New Testament, that spirit of giving to the poor is further amplified. Indeed, the essence of the gospel is to love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:39) and as Christ has loved us (John 13:34). Jesus unequivocally declared anything we do for even the least of His people, we also do for Him (Matt. 25). The assignment here is as practical as can be: feed, clothe, tend to, and visit those in need.
Our response toward the poor and our Christian identity are so intertwined John asked, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17). Love for our neighbor in need is an authentication test of our faith.
Engage with the Work Where You Are
Our response to food insecurity must follow Jesus’ command and example (Luke 9). Under the guidance of Kelly Lindquist—who serves on staff as a missions associate — Bon Air Baptist Church (BABC) of Richmond, Virginia, seeks to follow Jesus’ command and example with its weekly food distribution, the limits of which were pushed by the pandemic. The distribution at BABC evolved from an existing food pantry.
The church had been collaborating with the nearby Title 1 high school, keeping its food pantry stocked for students and their families. When COVID-19 forced everything into a standstill early in 2020 and the school stopped being a city breakfast and lunch distribution center, the food supplies were moved into the church commons.
Once a week, those families and other groups served by the church came to pick up groceries. With no volunteers allowed in the building, the church staff fulfilled the task of collecting, bagging, and loading the bags into people’s cars.
BABC now helps an average of 70 families a week. Special calls from the pulpit and weekly churchwide emails keep the congregation informed of the needs. Donations flow in, and food is collected two days a week with four volunteers receiving, dividing, and bagging everything. On Wednesday afternoons, cars line up early to receive a generously filled bag of nonperishables, occasional fresh produce, and extras like toiletries and paper products.
On special occasions like Thanksgiving or a new school year, families receive select items like backpacks, seasonal food, gift cards, etc. These events draw in as many as 120 families. The distribution is promoted via word of mouth, the church website, social media, community connections, direct email, and even on the evening news.
Missions-minded church members are called upon, and multigenerational involvement is encouraged. Seniors and youth alike are regularly involved in collecting and distributing. Even the youngest participate, decorating the paper bags for the holiday distributions. One month, participation was encouraged through a fun food collection competition between age groups, and the leader of the losing group was honored with a pie in the face.
Maximize the Work by Partnering with Other Entities
Collaborating with various organizations has strengthened BABC’s ministry and allowed it to expand. For example, BABC partners with YoungLives Metro Richmond, a ministry to teen moms. Every week, two of its workers pick up multiple bags of food for its participants. A partnership with Bridging RVA—an organization that connects individuals, groups, and causes to one another to advance common good—allowed the collection of all the bread families receive and a large donation of diapers. Families with young children were blessed with 40 diapers in their bags. The Society of St. Andrew, a hunger-relief nonprofit, once donated 800 pounds of potatoes, which the church then divided and distributed. Those partnerships are critical to boosting donations while increasing the number of families helped.
Eternalize the Work by Ministering to Heart Needs
Committing to pray for and with the people in need, for the volunteers, and for the logistics of the distribution is vital to any successful ministry. Prayer, interwoven in the project, makes it all possible. On occasion, BABC pastors and volunteers stand outside, their heads lowered to the opened window of the cars lined up along the curb, offering to pray with and for the people, for their needs and struggles, for provision, and for peace.
Every opportunity to share the gospel with those who come must be explored. BABC welcomes people from all walks of life. Leaders and volunteers strive to share the gospel with recipients by small gestures like invitations to church services.
For Valentine’s Day one year, BABC distributed red bracelets with John 3:16 inscribed. In the most meaningful experiences, some recipients share bits and pieces of their life — a woman living for the past four months with her teenage daughter and her baby in a motel, an older man from a tent community, an isolated immigrant. And in their calling and their attempts to share Christ, leaders and volunteers become the recipients of what the participants have to give — their story.
A pandemic generates hardships but also draws the best out of us, leading us to the renewed realization we need each other’s support to prevail. As Christians, our call amounts to nothing less than pouring ourselves into the lives of our fellow human beings whose health and dignity are imperiled by food insecurity. We must fulfill basic human needs for our message to be credible. As you reflect on the problem of food insecurity in your community, consider the needs and whether God might be leading you to be part of the response and implement some of the steps shared here.
Corinne Nguyen lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she has been volunteering with Bon Air Baptist Church’s food ministry.
This article was originally published in October 2021 Missions Mosaic.