“Jesus started out at a wedding feast. He sat with the disciples at the Last Supper. After the resurrection they didn’t recognize him until he broke bread with them,” lists Jim Alford, Pastor of Youth & Community at Whitby Baptist Church. “But they were about so much more than physical food.”
Whitby Baptist Church (WBC) has long made a practice of keeping some food aside for anyone who needs it. Once known as the “food cupboard,” an emergency store for the occasional request, the extra stash became insufficient to meet the needs of the community. Despite being nestled in a suburban community in Whitby, there is a significant low-income and precariously housed population—people who are barely scraping by. Over time, the needs of the community have grown, and WBC has expanded its ministry to meet them.
“The demand got higher and higher,” says Jim. “The congregation stepped up and gave lots of donations. It was something we just did on an ad hoc basis. It wasn’t until the needs were coming on an ongoing basis, that we made it official.”
What began as a food cupboard has, over the last seven years, grown into a full food bank. After a learning experience at a foodbank in Toronto, WBC began to set up a space to get everything organized, setting up shelves and figuring out how to best help people who needed to use the food bank one at a time. But that left others waiting their turn with nothing to do. Jim saw it as an opportunity to connect further and with the support of volunteers, they set up a coffee and snack area for people who were waiting. Using the different skills of people in the church, there are now opportunities for everyone to pitch in. One team works together to help people as they’re picking up their groceries; another team of sparkling conversationalists assists with coffee/snack, which are always homemade by still other skilled hands. What they have discovered is that while most people come to their doors for food, some arrive even when they don’t need to pick anything up. Instead, it is their souls that are fed through conversation and care.
To continue to be able to meet growing needs, WBC has formed some important partnerships. They work with The Salvation Army’s ample food gathering strengths. A quilting guild that meets in the church donates what they can, providing quilted bags to carry the food. After dropping off flyers the week before, on Halloween the church goes door-to-door collecting goods and partnering with other agencies to make sure everything ends up where it is most needed.
As a result of all this work, the church has become a community of people who are known for caring about their neighbourhood. People arrive in their church building who might never have gone into a church otherwise. People who are marginalized or lonely are shown the love of Jesus through WBC’s people, and the congregation has learned how to be generous and to use the many gifts and skills that God has given them.
“The relationship building of the food bank means that people are not afraid to come in to the church. We are known in the neighbourhood,” says Jim. They are sharing the bread of life with people who need it, and it is making all the difference.