(EDITOR'S NOTE — On Oct. 12, Southern Baptists will observe World Hunger Sunday and congregations across the United States will collect offerings for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. Since its inception in 1974, Southern Baptists have given $231 million through the fund. In 2007, Southern Baptists gave more than $5.5 million; in the first six months of 2008, $2.3 million has been received. For information on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com.)
With unemployment and consumer food prices rising, gasoline costs at near-record levels and the possibility of more job layoffs looming on the horizon, business is sadly booming for the 1,500 domestic hunger ministries that receive support from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
While 80 percent of the World Hunger Fund is earmarked for the International Mission Board to fight world hunger, the remaining 20 percent is dedicated to feed the hungry of North America and is administered by the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
Some 3.5 million meals were served to North America's hungry in 2007 and as a result 35,000 professions of faith were recorded throughout the continent. Because of careful management and low overhead, the cost of a meal at a Southern Baptist hunger ministry averages about 40 cents, according to Sandy Wood, hunger ministry specialist on NAMB's servant and ministry evangelism team.
More than 67,000 volunteers assisted at hunger ministry sites throughout the United States in 2007, Wood said. Some 7,200 new hunger ministry volunteers were trained in evangelism during the year as well. The gospel was shared with more than 580,000 visitors to SBC hunger ministries.
For missionaries like Angelia Bostick in Brownwood, Texas, and Steve Faith in New Albany, Ind. — both longtime veterans of feeding ministries — the workdays are long, hard and extremely tiring. No one could blame them if they quit tomorrow. But they won't.
For 15 years, Bostick has headed up the Heart of Texas Good Samaritan Ministry in rural Brown County, located three hours south of Dallas. One-third of the county's 40,000 residents live in poverty.
Bostick, 51, is a NAMB missionary. Most of her financial support for the food ministry comes from domestic World Hunger Funds via area Southern Baptist churches and the local Brown Baptist Association. But the Brownwood food pantry and warehouse also is an inter-denominational effort that involves about 200 Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Nazarene and Assembly of God volunteers. The facility requires 20 volunteers a day to handle food distribution.
"Southern Baptists started the ministry, but there are no theological differences about what Jesus said about helping the poor," said Bostick, a long-time resident of Brownwood. "We want to work together because the resources here are so limited."
Brownwood's economic situation is fragile, Bostick said. Her ministry added 50 new families at the end of July, on top of the 600 families it normally serves each month. In November and December, the number of families requesting food typically expands to 800 because of seasonal layoffs by local plants and factories.
Only Brown County residents can receive food from the ministry, Bostick said. Families can come to the pantry once each month. The amount of food distributed depends on family size, but each family donation consists of several grocery bags, including frozen and canned meat, cereals, vegetables, rice, pasta and peanut butter.
"The majority of the people who come in are elderly or disabled on fixed incomes. Brown County has a higher percentage of elderly than the Texas average," Bostick said. "We also have a lot of the working poor, because there are not a lot of good paying jobs around Brownwood. Most make minimum wage." Sixty percent of the "customers" are Anglo, 30 percent Hispanic and the remaining 10 percent African-American.
Fifteen years ago, Bostick agreed to take the ministry's executive director job until someone else could be found. No one ever was.
"I had served on the original team creating the ministry," says Bostick. "But running the warehouse and pantry were not what I was trained to do. I wanted to teach. Now, 15 years later, I'm still in the job.
"This is what God called me to do, and He prepared me to do it all my life," said Bostick, a preacher's kid and a graduate of Brownwood High School, nearby Howard Payne University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She was 17 when she felt called to be a missionary.
"Sometimes I get tired and want to quit. But like Jeremiah, there's a fire that burns in me and won't go out," she said. "Sure, you get tired sometimes. But I've never doubted that God called me to do this. How could I do less?"
A thousand miles away from Bostick in central Texas, it takes a lot of "Faith" — Steve Faith, that is — to run the Southeast Indiana Baptist Food Warehouse in New Albany, Ind. Faith, 64, is administrative community evangelism director for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.
Unlike Bostick — whose feeding pantry distributes directly to families — Faith is more like a "wholesaler" of free food for the hungry. He gets large ministries such as "Feed the Children" or "Operation Blessing" to donate pallets of food, paper goods and other products needed by families. He also asks large firms like Tyson Foods to donate their products.
No associational funds are ever spent on the food or products themselves, which are always donated and then distributed free of charge to churches or other hunger ministries with 501(c)3 charitable tax status.
"Our (the association's) only expense is rental of trucks and the diesel fuel we need," Faith said. With diesel fuel now up to as much as $5 a gallon, the association's budget is stretched thin.
"I don't get the world hunger funds directly," Faith said. "We have 63 churches in our association and nine of them get the hunger funds. But we couldn't do without them." Faith is co-supported by the Indiana state convention and NAMB.
From January until the end of July 2008, the warehouse received and distributed 1.5 million pounds of "product," Faith said. He figures he contributes some 90,000 meals a month in the south Indiana area.
"We can unload a tractor trailer of any product in 12 minutes. Many loads come in at night. Sometimes I don't know exactly what I have until I get it here. He said whether the load comes in at night or early the next morning, it will be unloaded and turned around in less than a day — sometimes in 90 minutes. Perishable items like Tyson's chicken get top priority.
Faith, who established the warehouse — located on one end of the associational office — in 2000, works 12-hour days, six days a week. He has to be on the scene when the food or other products are delivered to the warehouse, which takes him away from his wife many evenings.
"I do it because I just love people," Faith says. "Brother, there are people out there and they really need help. We have more needs than product. It's currently worse than I've ever seen it. In this economy, many families are having to make tough decisions — 'do we buy food or do we buy gas so we can get to and from work?'"
Faith loves to tell the stories of lives transformed through their ministry.
"One family needed a pack of diapers for their baby," he recalled. "When they visited a church to pick up the diapers along with their food, the mom and dad — both in their 30s and unmarried — were both saved. They later got married and helped bring another dozen of their relatives to the Lord.
"Sadly, the dad later died. But because of a single box of diapers, he's in heaven today," Faith added. "And after his death, five of his friends accepted Christ."