Churches distribute 70,000 pounds of fresh produce and dairy to the needy affected by virus
By Lindsay Peyton
There’s no mistaking a Convoy of Hope truck. The nonprofit’s red 18-wheelers clearly display its names in large letters with a waving American flag in the background – signaling that relief is on the way. On Wednesday, June 3, the truck will bring joy from its headquarters in Springfield, Missouri to United Methodist Churches the Third Ward in Houston, delivering about 1,000 pre-packaged boxes of fresh produce and dairy products to the neighborhood at a time when the need is high.
The faith-based nonprofit is on a mission to feed the hungry through community outreach and disaster response – and COVID-19 has resulted in a nationwide need for its services. In fact, the organization has received more than 1,000 requests from 46 states. Already Convoy of Hope has delivered more than 17 million means to partners, community organizations and churches around the U.S.
Now, the nonprofit is preparing to head to Texas, with a refrigerated truck full of apples, oranges, potatoes, onions, and squash as well as milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt. The produce and dairy products sorted the food into about 1,000 boxes to make them easy to distribute to families.
On Wednesday, June 3, the truck will land at St. John’s UMC in downtown Houston and then its donations will be shared among the churches in Third Ward, where food insecurity is a major concern. The timing felt divine, St. John’s Pastor Rudy Rasmus explained. The Convoy is arriving on the usual distribution day at his church.
“Every Wednesday for the last 20 years we’ve been distributing food to hungry Houstonians,” he said. “In the aftermath of disasters, we have always ramped up our distribution.”
The last time they increased volume was during the hurricane, Rasmus added. “Harvey felt a little like this, but the sun came out after four days,” he said. “After a month, things dried up, and things started to feel normal. It’s been two months now, and there’s no normal in sight.”
He explained that the Convoy of Hope truck will stop at St. John’s where volunteers will unload the boxes.
“We’re asking all of the United Methodist churches in Third Ward to assemble a team and meet us on delivery day to take a load back to their churches,” Rasmus said. “The goal is to have those churches go back to their communities and do a food distribution there.”
He added that food insecurity is a major concern in the Third Ward and across the city, especially in the face of the pandemic. “Over all the years we have done this, we have never seen this many disenfranchised people, in the throes of their own economic upheaval,” he said. “I observed yesterday the shock on some of their faces. You can imagine, there are people who have never had to stand in line before for support.”
Now, those same people are driving around the city looking for food, Rasmus said. This is a time when the church can serve as a beacon for hope and assistance.
“There’s so much uncertainty now,” Rasmus said. “The church is becoming more visible and accessible. Right now, everything counts and everything helps.”
Pastor Linda Davis at Boynton Chapel UMC agreed. The church has hosted a food pantry on campus for about a decade, serving from 150 to 200 families.
“We think that because of HISD’s service ending, there will be a lot more people looking for pantries,” she said.
Boynton Chapel is working with Change Happens!, a nonprofit that serves the neighborhood, to develop a list of resources for those affected by COVID-19, including food pantries, legal services and financial assistance.
“In Third Ward, we’re trying to put our resources together so people can understand what’s available,” Davis said. “There’s such a huge need in the community for food.”
Her congregation will be one of the Third Ward churches taking part of the Convoy of Hope delivery. “This opportunity is perfect,” she said. “All we need to do is get the word out, and we know the people will come.”
Dr. Fred Smith, who serves Central Houston and the Third Ward through the district’s Church and Community Health Initiative, is coordinating the distribution effort with area congregations.
He explained that a number of Third Ward residents do not have access to food because of transportation. “Most food pickup and testing sites require having a car,” he said.
Smith is trying to organize delivery to those who do not own cars – and hopes to build an ongoing service. “The number one problem in Third Ward is food insecurity – and that was before the pandemic,” he said.
Bishop Scott Jones said that getting food to communities in need is an example of how great the impact can be when churches work together.
“Since the pandemic has occurred, I have been so impressed with the creativity and innovation I’ve seen in our conference, as churches continue to find ways to serve and help others,” he said. “In this case, a faith-based nonprofit is coming all the way from Missouri to help us – and our churches are banding together to reach as many people as they can with that wonderful donation.”
Rev. Jill Daniel, director of the Texas Annual Conference’s “We Love All God’s Children” initiative, added that this is an ideal way for the church to become a hub in the community, where people can come for needed assistance.
“Maybe the church was always a place they never felt welcomed before,” she said. “Maybe this is an opportunity for a family to make a bold walk across the street to the church – and to experience radical hospitality when they get there.”
“We’re the church,” she said. “We have something unique to share with people as Christians and that’s the love we have in Christ. This is a great way to share that.”
To sign up to volunteer with St. John’s on Wednesday, visit breadoflifeinc.org. To learn more about Convoy of Hope, visit convoyofhope.org.