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Employees from a local LyondellBassell plant deliver donations to Harvest House.
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A cause all believers can agree on: Feeding the hungry

Texas churches partner to form county’s largest food bank, receive grant for new facility.

A project that began in a garage in the early 1990s has since grown into a large, influential distributor of goods.

No, it’s not Amazon — it’s Harvest House, a Texas food ministry founded by the Nichols Street Church of Christ in Bay City, 75 miles southwest of Houston.

Glenn Organ and a few other members of the congregation started feeding about 25 families per week out of the garage of a church-owned apartment in 1993 — a year before Jeff Bezos founded the online retail giant out of his garage in Bellevue, Wash.

Glenn Organ, left, accepts a delivery of food from the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.

Glenn Organ, left, accepts a delivery of food from the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.

And while Harvest House may not boast Amazon’s $500 billion revenue — or any, for that matter — Organ is proud that the ministry now feeds an average of 300 families every week, providing them with about 5,000 pounds of food.

That makes it the largest food pantry in Matagorda County, with a population of about 36,000 — nearly a quarter of whom live below the poverty level, according to U.S. Census data.

The pantry mostly operates a weekly Wednesday drive-up or walk-up food distribution. One week each month, it runs a mobile food distribution on Thursday instead in nearby Van Vleck, Texas.


Related: Houston-area Churches of Christ unite to feed the hungry


“We are trying to do as Christ admonished us to do in Matthew, when he depicts the final judgment, and one of those number of people who will be congratulated in that judgment are those who have fed the hungry,” Organ told The Christian Chronicle.

The 88-year-old former Harvest House director and church elder now serves as the associate director, having stepped down in 2015.

Five food ministries become one

Much of Harvest House’s growth came in the past few years under director Willie Rollins, a Nichols Street elder who succeeded the previous director, David Carol, in 2018.

Under the 74-year-old’s leadership, the food pantry joined forces with other churches in the area, each of which had been operating its own food ministry — First Methodist, First Presbyterian, Calvary Baptist and First Baptist — to form an independent nonprofit.

That was Carol’s wish — or what Rollins called his “manifesto” — before his death from brain cancer.

Willie Rollins, far right, accepts a donation check from HB Zachary Care Team.

Willie Rollins, far right, and other volunteers for the Harvest House accept a donation check from HB Zachary Care Team.

Each partnering church contributes $1,125 per quarter and has a seat on the board of directors.

Beyond the combined resources, Rollins told the Chronicle that independence has allowed Harvest House to accept donations from local companies that could not contribute to faith-based institutions and to form a greater partnership with the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent — a nonprofit 70 miles west in Victoria, Texas, that supplies the majority of the pantry’s food.

Frances Santellana, the food bank’s chief operations officer, remembers when Organ and another Nichols Street elder would drive a small bobtail truck to pick up food from the bank in the early days.

Now, the food bank delivers box trucks full of pallets of food to Harvest House.

“There’s no words to describe the gratitude that we feel towards them,” Santellana said of Harvest House volunteers, “because they’re out there with our team of volunteers, whether it’s raining, storming … just giving their hands to our community, to our staff that distributes the food out there.

The Food Bank of the Golden Crescent delivers a truckload of food to Harvest House.

The Food Bank of the Golden Crescent delivers a truckload of food to Harvest House.

“So it just shows their true servant’s heart,” she added. “You know, they have a compassion and a true servant’s heart to help the community.”

Independence also allowed the pantry to apply for and receive an $873,000 grant from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for the construction of a new 3,500-square-foot facility — a significant upgrade from the current 1,200-square-foot facility.

A digital model shows the new planned facility for Harvest House, set to be completed in 2025.

A digital model shows the new planned facility for Harvest House, set to be completed in 2025.

The new building will include a walk-in freezer and refrigerator, a waiting room for families signing up or renewing their services — who currently have to stand outside, rain or shine — and a public meeting area.

Harvest House plans to break ground in March and have the facility ready in 2025.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden

While the pantry’s independent status does bring some restrictions on evangelism, Rollins said the families it serves still know to give the glory to God.

“That’s probably the worst kept secret in Matagorda County,” he said with a chuckle. “You know, it’s not a ministry, but it is a ministry because they’re all faith-based organizations that are participating in this process.”

“It’s not a ministry, but it is a ministry because they’re all faith-based organizations that are participating in this process.”

Volunteers have a devotional each Wednesday, and they can still pass out Christian materials to food recipients, Rollins said.

Additionally, the new facility will be located right next to the Nichols Street church building, on an acre of land donated by the church — the current operations are further down the street.

Organ sees God at work through the Harvest House now more than ever.

“It’s really amazing to see what God is doing with this and causing a better spirit of understanding and working together among churches in this community,” he said.

“The Church of Christ has had a reputation in communities that they thought they were the only ones going to heaven, and they avoided churches as having the plague — we’re trying to change that reputation,” Organ added. “We’re not changing what we believe. We’re not sacrificing any principles. We’re simply working together for a common cause to do what this community really needs.”

Rollins echoed that sentiment on partnering with churches outside the fellowship of Churches of Christ.

Local kids volunteer at Harvest House, putting together food for needy families.

Local kids volunteer at Harvest House, putting together food for needy families.

“I understand there has been a tradition of that separating, but we don’t ascribe to that, particularly when it comes to serving mankind,” he said. “I don’t think Jesus would say, ‘OK, you’re Church of Christ. You can’t serve these poor people if you’re a Baptist or you’re Methodist.’ I don’t think the Jesus we serve would have a problem with it.”

 

More churches have shown their support for Harvest House, too — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church, recently pledged to donate 10,000 pounds of food.

But despite all the community support, recent food shortages have affected Golden Crescent and made securing supplies more difficult, while also creating a greater need for food among those already struggling.

That’s why Harvest House has at times been forced to buy additional food from grocery stores — at several times the cost of that provided by the food bank — and why Harvest House has been soliciting support from more organizations in the area.

The Harvest House, Nichols Avenue, Bay City, TX, USA

Regardless, the members of the Nichols Street church plan to continue ministering to the hungry through the food bank — even if it’s not technically a ministry anymore — and setting an example for other Christians.

“I think it would be a shining light not only in our community but throughout the brotherhood and throughout the nation to see what some churches are doing to meet a common need,” said Organ, the former director. “There are ways in which we can work together successfully and not only get to know each other but come to appreciate each other — and who knows what God will do with this?”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Willie Rollins, 74, died Dec. 6 after this article was reported. Rollins had battled leukemia successfully for years but was diagnosed with pneumonia before his death, preacher Matt Springfield said. “He loved serving the Lord and the community and was a wonderful shepherd for our congregation,” Springfield said. “Keep his lovely wife, Audrey Rollins, covered in prayer.” Memorial donations in Rollins’ name can be made to the Harvest House.

DONATIONS to the Harvest House can be made through PayPal to @harvesthousepantry or mailed to 1200 Nichols Ave., Bay City, TX 77414.

 

Filed under: feeding the hungry Food insecurity Food ministry food pantry Harvest House National News Nichols Street Church of Christ Top Stories

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