When it comes to feeding the hungry, $1.6 million goes a long way.
For Cary-based North Carolina Baptists on Mission, that money recently arrived in the form of a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, allowing the organization to fund a six-week food box program to help feed people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across the state.
Disaster relief has long been the largest of Baptists on Mission’s 19 ministries, said Richard Brunson, director. The COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation resulting from it have presented some new challenges, he said.
“Because this is such a different kind of disaster, we see this as being a local, neighbor to neighbor kind of response,” he said. “We have coordinators in each county that work with their local emergency management, as well as with state emergency management, to work through the 211 calls and find churches and other community groups who are willing to help people who are isolated.”
That local way of thinking defines how Baptists on Mission handles the food boxes they distribute. The organization acts as a kind of central hub from which the boxes are sent out to local churches, soup kitchens and other similar institutions in areas with people in need. Those organizations then take the food to the people who need it – often those who are stuck at home or out of work due to COVID-19.
Paul Langston, missions mobilization consultant with Baptists on Mission, said that the scale of COVID-19 response is unlike any disaster the group has aided with before.
“We did a million hot meals after Hurricane Florence, and we had partners from seven other states come in to help us out,” he said. “The difference there is that, with a hurricane, you’re talking five, ten, maybe fifteen counties. This time, you’re talking about all 100 counties, so it’s a much broader scale. It’s a much broader need.”
A long history of disaster relief projects has made accomplishing that task a bit easier, Langston said.
“Because of past disasters, we do have volunteers in all of the counties, and we were able to make connections and help, it really springs off the back of what happened in the past,” he said.
Baptists on Mission is one of four organizations which received funding for food boxes through the USDA, and the only non-profit among them. The other three are produce companies, including Ford’s Produce, L&M Companies, and Ward’s Fruit & Produce Company. The funding covers four types of boxes — fresh fruit/fresh vegetable, precooked meat (pork and chicken), fluid milk, and dairy products, and Langston said the demand has already exceeded what Baptists on Mission can provide.
“Over the six weeks, we’ll distribute 48,000 fruit and vegetable boxes, and then 12,000 meat, 12,000 milk and 6,000 cheese,” he said. “On the fruit and vegetables boxes, we were granted money to distribute about 8,000 per week, and in the first week we had 15,000 requests.”
Brunson reiterated that getting that kid of volume distributed is only possible because of the volunteers managing deliveries in their own communities across the state.
“We’re still working with a lot of those same people who are helping in their communities, and we’ve let them know about the food box program,” he said. “We’re distributing, and then they’re picking it up and taking it to the people who are affected. It’s really still neighbor helping neighbor, we’re just giving the neighbor who is helping some additional resources.”
The program also helps farmers by providing a market for their goods, Brunson said, a benefit which many people might not consider.
People can get access to the food boxes through whatever local organizations exist in their area to combat food insecurity. That could include food pantries, soup kitchens, churches and more, Langston said. Those in need should seek out those groups and ask if they are part of the food box program. Baptists on Mission can also be reached at 919-604-4778, or online at https://baptistsonmission.org.