GLEN BURNIE, Md. – One Saturday a month, North Glen Community Church’s parking lot comes alive with hundreds of cars, four lanes wide, packing the lot. Police reserve officers direct traffic, and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members handle traffic management support. Cars begin lining up over an hour before the church’s mobile food pantry, Harvest Ministries, opens.
Harvest Ministries began in August 2022 with the help of a Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Strengthening Churches Grant to cover the cost of a pallet jack, coolers and other supplies. Within months, the pantry took on a life of its own.
“That first pantry we worked so hard, and then we gathered and prayed together in a circle. I held my breath, hoping someone would show up,” said Barry Mager, who founded and coordinates the pantry. “Then they came – over 100 cars lining up. We were thrilled. We were afraid we’d run out of food, but it was perfect. We had a few bags left over. It was like loaves and fish!”
In addition to a growing base of visitors arriving monthly to get food, the pantry has opened wide a multitude of community doors and opportunities for engagement – from individuals at the local and county food pantries, food delivery drivers and community volunteers to police, CERT teams and government officials. “The number of contacts is incredible,” Mager said.
The sheer volume of cars, each representing between two and eight people, is amazing. Beginning with about 470 individuals served, the number quickly swelled to an average of 620, with a high of 800 in November. North Glen Elementary School, across from the church, helps promote the pantry to their families.
Working with the Anne Arundel Food Bank and the Maryland Food Bank each Friday before the pantry, Mager and others pick up and take delivery of literally tons of food. They then act quickly to sort and get cold food to freezers, refrigerators and coolers. On Saturday, volunteers arrive before 8 a.m. to sort and bag the food. Cars begin lining up by 9 a.m. for the 10 a.m. distribution.
As people have become used to the monthly pantry, it has become part of their schedule, so many are now regulars. This provides a chance for volunteers to greet them and catch up.
But the relationship-building doesn’t stop there. CERT members have relaxed, also chatting with volunteers, helping with cleanup, and even offering resource ideas. In November, one CERT member shared about a couple who plays Santa and Mrs. Claus. The couple came for Christmas and offered their services for free. They even pitched in to load food.
North Glen Community Church Pastor Paul Bachman contacted a friend affiliated with Gideons International. Now each week, Gideons are on the lot chatting with those in line, handing out Bibles, and providing information about the Gideon App.
Mager emphasizes the mobile pantry is a vehicle for sharing the gospel.
“Those who come through the line are not only getting physical food, they’re getting spiritual food,” he said. There is no official registration. Drivers just share the number of families in their home, and a paper is placed on the windshield for workers to determine the food allocation. In September, Mager added another question – would you like prayer or spiritual counseling?
“I didn’t expect much of a response, but wow, I was wrong,” he said. “We’re averaging 30 people each month seeking prayer or counseling.”
Pastor Bachman and evangelism ministry leader Joseph Johnson meet with those who request a consultation. Bachman said some people are completely broken. The church was able to follow up with one woman who had several desperate needs.
Children’s ministry leader Kim Gayleard said one mom reached out to the church after the pantry in December and asked if the church could help with Christmas gifts and food.
“I contacted people and told them, ‘I need a Christmas miracle,’” Gayleard said. Members at North Glen and other area churches responded, providing toys and groceries. “The mom showed up with tears in her eyes to pick up the gifts.
“I’ve seen a lot of great things from the pantry,” she said. “Every once in a while we had treats for the kids in the cars. One time we had ice cream, and a family rolled the window down. The little boy in the back was so excited, just smiling his heart out over getting ice cream. That inspired me to start giving out little treats every month. We’ve got something already planned for Valentine’s Day.”
Several individuals have visited the church as a result of the pantry, and one woman is in the process of becoming a member.
“The pantry is one way we are showing love to the community,” Bachman said. “It gives us opportunities for people to know we are here and that we care. I’m especially excited that many have asked for prayer, and we’ve had an opportunity to pray with them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sharon Mager is communications specialist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.)