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Demand for food ministries rises with grocery prices

Churches across the U.S. serving more hungry neighbors, leaders report.

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MINNEAPOLIS — As volunteers prepared to hand out milk, produce, canned goods and meat, cars lined up outside the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

More than an hour before the church’s weekly food distribution, vehicles stretched down a neighborhood street — an indication of the extreme need the congregation serves.

“My fellowship hall is a Walmart now,” said Russell A. Pointer Sr., senior minister and elder.


Related: Church food pantries respond to increased need amid migrant surge


Minneapolis Central launched its food ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic and fed hungry neighbors after violence following George Floyd’s May 2020 murder destroyed nearby stores.

Four years later, the number of needy families relying on the ministry has more than doubled, averaging between 325 and 375 per week, church leaders said.

“People now have to choose between paying rent or getting something to eat,” said Mariea Overton, a social worker and the food ministry’s deputy director. “So I think that the growth … of the need for food has a lot to do with the economy.”

Volunteers organize sackfuls of food for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Volunteers organize sackfuls of food for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

With grocery prices high and pandemic-era benefit programs ended, many Churches of Christ across the nation report increased demand for food benevolence.

“With inflation and the cost of living here in Hawaii, it’s still expensive,” said Ruth Byrne, who started the food bank at the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ in Honolulu about 15 years ago. “When they have children, they’ll choose between rent and electric or water bills, and there’s nothing left. So that’s where the food pantry comes in.”

Jay Plank, elder and administrative minister for the RiverWalk Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan., said, “We’ve seen a huge increase in both the number of clients served as well as the cost of food.”

Becky Almanza, food pantry director for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, has noticed a similar trend.

“We are seeing and serving more of the working poor versus the no-income to low-income clients we served prior to COVID,” Almanza said. “Most clients are being affected by a crisis — loss of job, hospital stay, big car repair — and have to decide which bills to pay.”

Diapers and other baby supplies cover a table outside the Minneapolis Church of Christ.

Diapers and other baby supplies cover a table outside the Minneapolis Church of Christ.

Nothing profound — just helping

Here in Minnesota, charities including Second Harvest Heartland and The Food Group help supply the food Pointer’s church gives away.

Other area Churches of Christ as well as denominational churches provide support as well.

Minneapolis Central member Lenard Johnson helps with the food distribution from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday.

As needy families kept arriving, he rolled crates full of milk to the church’s lawn. 

Nearby, other volunteers sorted sackfuls of carrots, cabbage and apples and organized a table covered with diapers and baby supplies. 

“We’re just here to help the community — to help those who are in need.”

The ministry keeps pork separate from beef, chicken and fish to accommodate clients who abide by halal dietary restrictions.

“I can’t think of anything profound to say,” Johnson said. “We’re just here to help the community — to help those who are in need.”

Minneapolis Central is the state’s only predominantly Black Church of Christ.

Its food ministry serves a diverse clientele: 60 percent Hispanic, 20 percent African American, 11 percent Somali, 6 percent Hmong and 3 percent White, according to church leaders. 

Lenard Johnson, center, organizes food and milk for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Lenard Johnson, center, organizes food and milk for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

A dozen freezers — and an equal number of refrigerators — in Minneapolis Central’s basement attest to its commitment to the ministry, led by director Bettie Crowe, who is away battling cancer.

“It’s unbelievable how devoted they are and how willing they are to give up their time and how consistent the volunteers are,” said Anne Selvig, an Edina Community Lutheran Church member who helps each Saturday. “It’s really inspirational.”


Related: In city where George Floyd died, minister emerges as key champion for justice


Allison Roorda, a volunteer who attends the City Hill Church in Eden Prairie, southwest of Minneapolis, echoed Selvig: “All of the people connected to (the Minneapolis Central church) and to this program have such a passion for their community. They really want to help out, they love serving, and I found myself wanting to get into that spirit.”

Still, the rising needs coupled with higher costs stretch the ability of the congregation — with post-COVID attendance of about 100 — to meet them.

The ministry’s total monthly food bill — even at its nonprofit suppliers’ discounted rates — has jumped to $11,000, up from $7,000 just recently, Pointer said. 

Russell A. Pointer Sr. in his office at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Russell A. Pointer Sr. in his office at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

“We usually do three meats a week (per family),” the minister said, “but because of the price of everything lately — and the funding is low — we’re having to cut back to maybe one meat and maybe a tuna fish or something like that. Because it just got too expensive.

“The last month or two at our church, we now have a separate offering just for the food,” he added. “We stopped some of our other programs just so we could keep this one going.” 

Sometimes, the ministry’s organizers worry they won’t be able to serve everyone who shows up, said Overton, whose 5-year-old twins, Cornell and Ca Mariea, played as she organized about two dozen volunteers. 

But as when Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, she stressed, God never fails to deliver.

“There’s never been a car that hasn’t been fed,” Overton said, referring to the families who line up for help. “So it’s pretty cool.”

Volunteers prepare food bags for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Volunteers prepare food bags for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Food for the body and soul

Mary Coleman, a 60-year-old disabled former machine operator, lives a few blocks from the Minneapolis Central church.

Produce is ready for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Produce is ready for distribution at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ.

Making just over the income limit to qualify for food stamps, she stumbled upon the ministry about a year and a half ago.

“I was walking my dog, and they were handing out food,” she recalled.

Coleman became a beneficiary of the church’s generosity — and then joined the volunteer effort.

Since the ministry accepts food from government-funded entities, it’s not supposed to proselytize. But helpers can talk about their faith if someone asks, and Coleman did.

She’s one of a handful of neighbors baptized as a result of Minneapolis Central’s food distribution.

“I got food for my mouth,” Coleman said. “And I got food for my heart — through God — from the people in the church.”

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].


How to help

To partner with the Minnesota church’s food ministry, send donations to:

Minneapolis Central Church of Christ

1922 4th Ave N.

P.O. Box 50603

Minneapolis, MN 55405

Filed under: benevolence cost of living economy Food Food ministry food pantries grocery inflation Minneapolis Central Church of Christ Minnesota National News Top Stories

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