Take a Walk in Your Community to Uncover New Community Needs
By Roy Maynard
Take a walk—that’s what Dr. Deborah Vaugh, senior past of Abiding Faith UMC, Houston recommends. Getting out into a community can help reveal needs, like the need for a neighborhood food pantry that Abiding Faith has worked to fill in recent months.
That new ministry, now called Abba’s Pantry, was named Rookie of the Year by the Houston Food Pantry at its recent Partner Conference.
“Like everything else, it starts with the need,” Vaugh said.
Two church members, Barbara Carter and Pamela Johnson, first approached Vaughn with the idea. The church had recently gotten involved—in small ways—with Almeda Elementary School, across the street from the church. They learned that nearly all of Almeda’s students qualify for free lunches, and many suffer from food insecurity.
“As we got more involved, we began to understand more of the demographics of the area,” said Carter. “We had handed out flyers in the neighborhood, but this helped us see how great the need was.”
But it wasn’t not as simple as gathering a few bags of groceries.
“We did our research,” Johnson said. “Barbara reached out to the Houston Food Bank. They explained there are requirements, as far as your storage facilities and so forth. We set aside a room in the church, and that was a start.”
It was a start, but it wasn’t enough. Soon Abba’s Pantry took up two rooms and a little more.
The three knew they would need the church’s support if they were going to make it work.
“We had to talk our trustees through the vision, but they got it,” said Vaughn. “And by the time we took it to our congregation, it was easy. So many in our church have a heart to help the community. They were in agreement immediately.”
Carter said she’s surprised at how much work it is.
“We pick up the food, and we bring it to the church,” she explained. “We stock it, we package it, we get it ready for our days that we’re open. There’s a lot more to it than we thought. But that’s fine; we’re grateful that we do have church members who are willing to serve. We don’t have trouble getting volunteers.
Abba’s Pantry is open four times per month; it’s open from 9 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturday of each month, and from 5 to 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays.
“On average, we have about 20 to 25 people come in every time we’re open,” said Vaughn. “So, in a month, we serve at least 50 households a month. In the summertime, we saw an increase of new clients coming in. You just don’t know what their situation is. They may be caring for grandchildren or grandparents or extended family members.”
Ms. Johnson agreed.
“We’ve learned that there are so many needs,” she said. “Even if a household has both parents working, that household may be hungry. Food may be an issue, because they had bills to pay.”
But the first step, Vaughn repeated, is getting to know the community.
“Getting out and walking is part of the DNA of our church,” she pointed out. “You can’t rely on reports and statistics. Get to know the schools in your area—more specifically, get to know the school nurses. They know what the needs are. And don’t forget your elderly. They’re too often overlooked.”