By BRIAN BLACKWELL, Special to the Message
STATEWIDE – Carolyn Stansell had an extra reason to offer gratitude during the most recent Thanksgiving season.
About a dozen first through sixth graders she co-teaches at Pineville Park Baptist Church spearheaded an effort to give about 400 pounds of canned goods that were donated to the Food Bank of Central Louisiana.
Each year the Children in Action group at the Pineville church chooses a missions project to coincide with World Hunger Awareness Month. This year the children placed boxes throughout the church building with the goal of collecting donated food along with money that would be used to purchase the canned goods.
[img_assist|nid=6926|title=Calvary Food Bank|desc=Members of Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria sort and package food items at the Food Bank of Central Louisiana. The Food Bank recently honored Calvary for its volunteer and financial efforts with the Make a Difference Award.|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]
“Seeing the results with what our children did is very rewarding,” Stansell said. “Sometimes children learn more about His love through giving away.”
Pineville Park is one of countless Louisiana Baptist churches who volunteer with the state’s food banks. According to the Feeding America website, more than 200 food banks in the Feeding America network distribute more than 2.5 billion pounds of food and grocery products to 14 million children and about 3 million senior adults each year.
Linda Hutson, director of development and community relations for the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, said that volunteers like those from Louisiana Baptist churches are important to meeting the needs of hungry individuals.
“As a non-profit organization, we rely on food and financial donations, as well as volunteers from the community,” Hutson said. “The Food Bank of Central Louisiana has a staff of seven full-time employees and five part-time employees, so it takes the efforts of the staff, board of directors and volunteers to serve more than 22,400 clients each month.”
For some churches, volunteering at their local food bank has been a long-standing effort. One such church is the singles group at First West – First Baptist Church of West Monroe – which has worked at the Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana for more than eight years. Every month the singles group packs 40-pound boxes of food for the Northeast Louisiana elderly who are on a fixed income.
Woods Watson, pastor of single adults and senior adults at First West, said the effort began as a singles’ class project to foster outreach to those in need. Since then the church has partnered with such groups as schools and other churches.
“Our single volunteers enjoy spending the hour once a month working together on this because it serves the needy in the community,” Watson said. “Our church has been led by our pastor, Dr. John Avant, to give ourselves away for the transformation of our community in Jesus’ name and this is one way that our singles participate in this effort.”
Building on that, sorting and packaging food items at the food bank many times places a smile on those who volunteer their time there, said Seth Carnes, singles pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria. The Food Bank of Central Louisiana recently honored Calvary Baptist for its volunteer and financial efforts with the Make a Difference Award at its annual appreciation awards dinner.
“I’ve never met anyone who regretted serving in such a way, as everyone is full of joy,” Carnes said. “Ministries like the food bank help put life in perspective, that there are people in real need even in the community around us.”
Meeting the basic need of providing food is important, as families may not be able to focus on their spiritual needs if they are hungry, said Teresa Carroll, crisis closet director for First Baptist Church of Jonesboro.
“We receive a tremendous blessing by providing a solution, however temporary, to the physical needs to the poor in our community,” said Carroll, who added that the church fed 140 families in November, one of its best months on record.
Dwayne Pitre, minister of outreach at Istrouma Baptist in Baton Rouge, said time spent at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank is part of a larger effort by the church to reach its community for Christ.
“It’s part of our local outreach in trying to be involved in the community by sharing the love of Christ in practical ways,” Pitre said. “We’re just getting our people exposed to people who are less fortunate. We’re trying to change the community just by being a part of it and being salt and light.”