Panhandle churches fill aching hearts and empty stomachs

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PENSACOLA–“In Covid-19 ministry days, churches are scrambling for ways to be the church,” said Brian Nall, executive director of the Pensacola Bay Baptist Association. “Most of that has been through a digital presence online.”

Yet, food ministry is the first tangible way for churches of all sizes to reach out to communities in need, he said, “filling aching hearts and empty stomachs through boxes of hope.”

Across the Panhandle, Florida Baptists are answering the call to fill their communities’  hearts and stomachs during the pandemic.

Feeding Ministry, hunger Relief, Coronavirus ResponseChipola Family Ministries in Marianna has an on-going food pantry and thrift store with more than 100 volunteers from 41 churches serving there. For the past two months, its warehouse has been a distribution site for 19,800 boxes of food provided through the State of Florida’s partnership with the Florida Baptist Convention.

“Providing a box of food during this time meets more than a physical need,” said Coba Beasley, associational mission strategist for the Chipola Baptist Association, which sponsors of the ministry.  “Most people who have been at home for several months long for personal contact. It’s an opportunity we’ve never seen before,” he added.

On May 2, Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola gave away more than 30,000 pounds of fresh produce, meat and dairy products. Although the food distribution was set to begin at 9 a.m., the church was amazed when Pensacola residents began lining up at 3 a.m.

“The needs of our community both physically and spiritually are great,” said Jeremy Portmann, executive director of Olive’s Ministry Village. “The pandemic has been an amazing avenue for the Gospel. People need more than a Gospel tract. Meeting a physical need often leads to meeting a spiritual one,” he added.

The food the church distributed was donated by the Patriot Emergency Response Team, a humanitarian agency in Quincy. “A large portion of the food donated during this time has been from non-religious entities. In a time of need, all the ‘lines’ that usually separate us, seem to go away.”

Portmann has a front row seat to the unique opportunities Coronavirus brings. His wife, Tonya, is an active-duty nurse in the Navy and has just returned from New York City having served on the USS Comfort.

God has also used food ministry to spark a fresh faith among His people.

When Gonzalez Baptist Church in Cantonment picked up 150 boxes of food provided by the Convention to distribute to their neighbors, they had no idea the door God would open for them to feed their entire community.

“We had our own ‘loaves and fishes’ moment,” said Pastor Mike Mashburn. “The day we distributed the first 150 food boxes, a community leader came by and pledged $2,000 to our efforts. People in the church and community offered portions of their stimulus checks, and local businesses have also partnered with us.”

The pastor added that they shared the Gospel with many who came for food, and several have joined them for online services. “It has grown our faith to watch God use this resource to open doors for Gospel conversations. Our people have seen God work in such a big way it helps them trust Him to do it again!”

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