Pictured Above: Inside the food pantry, workers preplunch for the dedication attendees
SANTA ROSA BEACH–Young children crying because the pangs of hunger are relentless. Elderly people having to scrimp and save to buy a jar of peanut butter. Parents, some working more than one job, unable to put a nutritious meal on the table.
The risk of going hungry is a daily reality for more than 9,000 men, women and children in the Panhandle community of Walton County.
Seeking to relieve this big problem of hunger, one small church with a big heart for serving its community has grown its food pantry from serving 50 people in 2018 to 1,400 people each week in 2023.
South Walton First Baptist Church at the Bay recently dedicated a new building for the Open Door Food Pantry ministry. “It is our hope that this building will be used for the purpose it was built until the problem of hunger is no longer an issue in our area,” said Pastor Walter Campbell.
“The Open Door Food Pantry has one goal, and that is to bring honor and glory to Jesus by loving those He loves and feeding those He has placed before us,” he said.
The new building is an outward expression of the church’s inner commitment and vision to feed the hungry.
“God has given them a great love for the poor and needy,” said Marc Johnston, Florida Baptists’ community ministries catalyst. “God gave their laypeople a vision for this building, and they are connecting with many individuals who feel the love and compassion displayed by the church.”
The ministry regularly serves people from Walton, Okaloosa and Bay counties. Nearly one-third of the people served each week are children, who are given “kiddie bags” containing treats and a Scripture verse for the week.
The food pantry is a 100% volunteer-run ministry that takes daily commitment and work. The church welcomes volunteers from all over, including other churches, other denominations, some who do not attend church and still others who now volunteer because of the kindness they received from this ministry.
Volunteers pick up donations early in the morning, seven days a week, and then process the donations for quality checks and prep for distribution. During distribution, volunteers have had opportunities to pray with people and even had those they’ve served come back and tell how God worked on their behalf.
Each week 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of food is received through donations from Destin Harvest, a local charitable organization focused on hunger relief, and local restaurants and grocery stores. Contributions are not solicited, but always appreciated with 100% going directly back into the food pantry ministry.
‘Jesus always provides’
Miraculously, the amount of food donated each week is always proportionate to the need on Saturday. In a recent week, volunteer Carole Bishop noticed that the shelves were nearly empty on Thursday afternoon.
‘Serving with this ministry has taught me to have faith and pray because Jesus always provides for our needs.’
“I tend to worry, but serving with this ministry has taught me to have faith and pray because Jesus always provides for our needs,” said Bishop.
As she prayed and waited, she received a call on Friday afternoon about a large donation from a food vendor trade show.
“I estimated that we received 10,000 pounds of food with that donation. Jesus answered my prayers, and I sent out a call for volunteers who came and worked hard for seven hours to prepare for distributions the next day,” said Bishop.
A witness to many miracles while serving, Bishop told about a mysterious donation of diapers, wipes and baby items that appeared on the loading dock just minutes before a young mom drove up in need of diapers.
“We were in tears and thanked Jesus for bringing these gifts,” added Bishop.
“The physical work can be exhausting and I get aches, but I think about the hurt Christ suffered on the cross and I go on. I feel that Christ has given me this opportunity to serve Him, and my walk with Christ has deepened as a result of this ministry,” said Bishop.
Anyone can visit the Open Door Food Pantry at South Walton First Baptist Church at the Bay every Saturday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The only questions asked are, “How many are you feeding?” and “How many are children?”
When asked why they don’t request more information, volunteers say, “Jesus didn’t take names when He fed the 5,000, so neither will we.”