DENVER — Southern Baptist volunteers are donning aprons this week in Denver as they prepare meals for city, state and national personnel providing protection and aid to those attending the Democratic National Convention.
Just as the convention is an enormous undertaking for the city — 4,440 delegates, 15,000 members of the media, 21,000 volunteers and numerous dignitaries from dozens of countries — the Southern Baptist first responder ministry, called “Love Denver,” has taken considerable effort as well.
Each day volunteers prepare and serve 9,600 meals, distributing the meals to 11 different sites throughout the downtown area. More than 600 volunteers serve eight-hour shifts, staffing feeding stations 24 hours a day. More than $250,000 worth of food and drink — paid for by law enforcement agencies — is being prepared and delivered.
Local Southern Baptist churches and the Mile High Baptist Association have partnered to make the effort a reality, saving law enforcement thousands of dollars that would have been spent on catering staff. For the churches, meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to minister and meet needs in Jesus’ name.
“We wanted to find a way to be a part of this event in a non-political way,” said Jim Shaddix, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in downtown Denver. “This grew to something far beyond what we ever envisioned it would be.”
Riverside reached out to the Mile High Association and other Denver Southern Baptist churches. The North American Mission Board gave $60,000 to get the effort underway. Law enforcement eventually drew the group closer and closer into its planning. By the time plans reached their final stages this summer, Baptist volunteers were gaining security clearances to some of the most security-sensitive venues at the DNC.
“When we started serving this past Saturday, some of the officers were still a little hesitant about us. They thought we were hired caterers,” said Bob Ryan, leader of the Mile High Association team. “But when they learned we were church volunteers, their whole tenor changed.”
At a feeding site in the Denver Convention Center on Monday, volunteers served a steady stream of police officers and other emergency response personnel.
“Who are you and why are you doing this?” one officer asked as he was served a hot meal of lasagna, bread sticks and salad. “We’re Southern Baptists and we’re doing it because we love Jesus and you,” a volunteer answered without hesitation.