Pictured Above: Members of Central Baptist Church in Port St. Lucie hand out Blessing Boxes as those in need drive up to the church.
ORLANDO–As Thanksgiving approaches, many Florida Baptist churches face the difficult reality this year of less food to bless hungry families in their communities and congregations.
With food supplies falling as low as 11% below last year, church-based feeding programs are finding it more challenging to provide traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this holiday season.
“It has been difficult to acquire anything beyond desserts,” said Maxi St. Fleur, senior pastor at First Haitian Baptist Church in Orlando. “Whereas in previous years we gave away hot plates, canned goods and turkeys, this year we can only offer a very humble meal cooked in the church kitchen.”
Willie Williams, pastor of Greater Mercy Missionary Baptist Church in Miami’s Overtown community, said it has been hard to find donors because the supporters themselves can’t find much to donate.
Whole turkeys had only a 38.9% stock availability Oct. 31, market research firm IRI reported Nov. 9. On average, global supply chain disruptions cut food and household supplies by 4% to 11% through last month, compared to the same time last year, IRI said.
An 8-16-pound turkey costs nearly 25% more than a year ago, Wells Fargo reported.
The supply chain crisis and inflated prices are impacting states differently, with IRI reporting that in Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania supplies are more plentiful than the national average, exceeding it by 7-9% points. Yet other states including Texas, Nebraska and Kansas are among the hardest hit.
Still, Florida churches are struggling to secure adequate supplies for holiday meal programs, said Jeffery Singletary, Florida Baptist Convention’s central region catalyst, noting that at least two churches have requested help. Singletary will secure some of the needed supplies through a partnership with the Florida Baptist Children’s Home-One More Child food bank and provide dollars to purchase additional supplies if needed.
“It’s costing us more to get less,” Singletary said. “We were looking at some of the prices last week, and they almost doubled. Some items have doubled. Some items have tripled, in terms of their cost. It’s supply and demand. The supply is down, the demand is up.
“They were citing costs to me,” he said of churches, “because at some level they want the state convention to help.” Churches cited higher prices for such items as turkeys, chickens, rice, potatoes and cooking oil.
Jerry Haag, president/CEO of One More Child, said the organization, which serves children around the world, has worked with partnering grocers to meet the demand.
“We have all been facing challenges that have made it more difficult to provide essential food to a growing number of children and families in crisis who are hungry and need our support,” said Haag. “Thankfully we have been able to pivot and find new ways to get food into the hands of hungry children and struggling families through our partnerships with companies like Publix and Kroger.”
“We have the processes and structure in place to remain nimble, and we thank God that we are still on track this year to provide more than 20 million meals in spite of the challenges we face. We are constantly establishing new partnerships and evaluating solutions to serve one more child.”
Many churches did not allow the scarcity and cost of food products to deter them in blessing their communities with Thanksgiving baskets.
Partnering with other local groups, MissionWay Church in Jacksonville delivered 50 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in the community. When grocery stores limited the number of turkeys that could be purchased, the church gave out gift cards along with the Thanksgiving fixings.
As he delivered a basket to an inner-city home in downtown Jacksonville, MissionWay member John Wilbanks prayed with the young mother of three young children. “She was so grateful,” Wilbanks said. “There was a definite need in this family.”
Although Central Baptist Church in Port St. Lucie is in the middle of a building program, over the Nov. 20-21 weekend the church provided Thanksgiving Blessing Boxes to 100 families in its community. The church, with about 100 members, saw cars lined up for members to place boxes inside the vehicles.
“We’re not a large church but we definitely have a large heart for the community around us,” said Pastor Nick Manzie.
Instead of purchasing turkeys to give, members gathered a long list of Thanksgiving treats for each box and included a gift card to Walmart. Being in a diverse community, not everyone enjoys turkey, the pastor said, and may like ham or rice and beans instead.
As his wife, Jessica, placed a box inside a car, the woman driver broke down in tears. “I never thought I’d be in a line like this,” she told the pastor’s wife.
“I shared with her that we’d all been in tough times and my husband, or I would love to talk with her as she went through hers,” said Jessica Manzie.
Also contributing to this story is Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ senior writer.