SAN ANTONIO — The volunteers at the food pantry of Redeeming Grace Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, have a simple goal: No hungry people.
“We take care of everyone and turn down no one,” said Marion Thomas, the church’s administrator.
The food pantry is open every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., “but if you’re hungry and come here on Monday, we’re going to feed you,” Thomas said.
Established a little more than three years ago, the food pantry at Redeeming Grace was recently selected as the food pantry of the year by the San Antonio Food Bank. In 2008, the ministry gave 136,565 pounds of food to more than 14,000 people.
It was more than the numbers that resulted in the award, however, as about 30 volunteers were praised for their smiles and gracious attitudes.
On Wednesdays, those volunteers arrive early to unload the truck from the food bank, organize the food and then begin to prepackage the food boxes for families to help streamline and expedite the process when the needy families arrive that afternoon.
“When they come together, it’s like a party, and they laugh together, and we always pray together,” Thomas said.
Up to 75 volunteers turn out to help package and disperse food for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“And last year, we gave toys to 200 children, so it takes lots of little elves,” Thomas said.
This year the church probably will see even more families needing help than in year’s past, she added.
“I’ve heard over and over the last few months, ‘I’ve never had to do this before,’ and ‘I’m so embarrassed’ and seen grown men cry because they have to ask for help,” Thomas said.
The stories are numerous—the family that had lost its home and now was living in the car; lost jobs; terminal illness. One father called to see if help was available for his hungry children with the cries of a baby in the background.
Thomas recalled one elderly man who hadn’t eaten anything in three days. He offered to eat cat food if that was all they had.
“We made him some soup and fed him right here. That’s not the way we usually do things, but when people are that hungry, they need to eat,” Thomas said.
Those tears often turn to tears of joy, however, when they find that help is at hand. “It’s such a good feeling to help these people,” she said.
The rules say families are allowed to come once a month to receive food, but Thomas confessed that exceptions are made for some senior citizens.
“When they’re having to decide whether they should buy food or their medications, we try to help them out a little more,” she said.
Meeting the needs of people keeps volunteer Ann Sance returning to help each week. “I like to help others,” she said. “I feel like it is necessary to help others who come through with needs. There are so many people who don’t have jobs, and I’ve been hungry, so I know how it feels.”
Minnie Galloway comes in early each week and gives the building a special cleaning so that the people coming will know they are cared for. “I like to share and try to help people,” she explained. “It keeps me strong and happy to be around people.”
Alicia Smith does more than just make sure the stomachs of those who come through are filled. “I pray for them and tell them God is in control. God has blessed me, and I want to be a blessing to others,” she said.
Nichelle Duhart is one of the church secretaries, so she gets to see people not only on designated food distribution days, but other days as well. “When people come here, a lot of times they are on their last leg. It’s a joy to be able to help, and it’s a joy to have this ministry.
Elisabeth Rodriguez, the other church secretary, said the ministry is as great a ministry to the volunteers as to those who are served through it.
“It’s blessed my life because it’s not a job but a ministry,” she said. “I’ve done mission work, and this is missions. People not only come here for food for their bodies but also for spiritual food. This is a way for them to see that God is providing.”
And some of those people come back for a second helping of that spiritual sustenance through the sermons of Pastor Brent Bryant on Sundays.
“We have visitors every Sunday, and some of them are the people that are getting fed. They are being drawn here by the love they feel,” said Betty Collier, another volunteer.
The ministry embodies the spirit of Texas Hope 2010, a Baptist General Convention of Texas emphasis on sharing the gospel and feeding the hungry.
Sance said the weekday food pantry ministry also adds to her worship.
“A lot of times, I get very emotional thinking about the people we help and just praise God. I sit here and thank God for the food we give out and the people we help.
“Nobody knows what goes on in your heart when you’re in church, but I thank God we able to do this and I think God is looking down and saying ‘Thank you,’” she said.
George Henson is the staff writer for the Texas Baptist Standard.