It’s Saturday morning in South Florida. Come rain or shine, dozens of cars snake slowly around the parking lot of Hollywood Community Church. When the morning ends, as many as 100 families facing hunger will have crisscrossed the church grounds to receive a box jam-packed with non-perishable food items, loaves of bread and meat.
They are greeted with smiles and words of encouragement by volunteers serving as the hands and feet of Jesus in that inner-city community.
The volunteers know the families lined up for food. Recipients must attend a worship service on Wednesday night or Saturday morning to earn a food voucher. It is in these times of worship that the gospel is proclaimed, relationships are developed and needs of families are discovered.
Hunger is not just a problem in other nations, it’s is a problem in South Florida and all across the state—from Pensacola to Key West.
The Open Heart Food Pantry is one of 134 ministries sponsored by Florida Baptist churches that receive funds from the Convention’s Global Hunger Relief offering. Of every dollar Florida Baptists give to the offering, 25 cents remain in the state to help churches and associations feed the hungry in their own community. Sixty cents of that dollar is sent to the International Mission Board for global hunger relief; and 15 cents is earmarked to the North American Mission Board for domestic hunger.
Providing food for 100 families a week is a work-intensive effort for the church, said Hollywood Community Pastor Brian Burkholder. Nearly 30 volunteers are involved in the ministry, picking up groceries from local stores, scouring bakeries and food banks, boxing food, and organizing the food products in the pantry and freezer to make each Saturday’s operations run smoothly.
Monthly funds received from Florida Baptists allow the food pantry volunteers to purchase additional food when bargains are found. “The funding gives us freedom and flexibility to purchase food wherever we can find a deal” to stretch the dollars, he explained.
“We are called to care for the unfortunate in our community,” said Burkholder. “We are located in a decaying inner city community where families live on median and low incomes. Some are without work, others struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table.”
“We are here to just love on the people and be Jesus to them,” said the pastor who has served the church for the past six years.
The church is known in the Hollywood area as a church that cares for people, he added. “If our doors were closed, would anyone know we were once here?” That question has become the guiding mission of the church.
“This church is having an amazing impact on its community,” said Zeronie Grant, church and community ministries director for the Gulf Stream Baptist Association. She explained that they have the largest food ministry of any church in the association.
“And they will have as many as 400 evangelistic encounters each month.”
Burkholder said when he arrived at the church he did not have a good grasp of the makeup of the multiethnic and economically diverse community. “We adapted to the need of the community.”
The congregation has grown to mirror its neighbors. They have become intentionally multiethnic in both leadership and congregation, said the pastor. The church also has a Christian school that reflects the complexity of the community, Burkholder said.
“We give glory to the Lord and rejoice in what he is able to do through us.”
To order materials to promote Global Hunger Relief Offering in your church, go to www.flbaptist.org/hunger.
By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, June 24,2016