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World Hunger Fund helps Alabama Baptist ministries meet people’s needscomment (0)

October 4, 2012

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

World Hunger Fund helps Alabama Baptist ministries meet people’s needs

When Alabama Baptists contribute to an offering to “feed the hungry,” images of children with bloated bellies in faraway countries may come to mind. However, international efforts represent only one aspect of the global food crisis that the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund (WHF) seeks to address. The other need is much closer to home.

Dan Wiggins, director of missions for Pleasant Grove Baptist Association, sees the need weekly at the association’s Christian Ministries Center in Brookwood. The center serves residents of Bibb, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties. According to Wiggins, 1,234 families have sought help from the center this year, and the center has given away more than 55,000 pounds of food donated and paid for through a variety of sources, including the WHF.

“The money we get from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) [for hunger relief] is a lifesaver,” Wiggins said. “What they give us is strictly used for food.” 

Wiggins said the center has assisted 240 more clients this year than the last, and he does not see the need diminishing.

“If anything, what we see is more and more new people and more and more new clients,” Wiggins said. 

Last year Alabama Baptists gave $863,227 to the WHF offering, about 10 percent of the total amount given by Southern Baptists. All of the money collected through the WHF goes directly to help feed hungry people — none of the funds are used for administrative costs. This year’s emphasis offering is Oct. 14.

When Alabama Baptists contribute to the WHF, one-quarter of the contributions stay in the state to assist associations with food pantries. Of the remaining amount, 80 percent goes to overseas hunger projects through the International Mission Board and 20 percent goes to the North American Mission Board to support hunger projects in the United States and Canada. 

According to Gary Swafford, director of the office of associational missions and church planting for the SBOM, $107,750 in hunger funds have been distributed in 2012 — “all for the true purpose of sharing Christ while alleviating hunger.”

Those funds support numerous local efforts, such as the Love in Action food pantry operated by Judson Baptist Association, the Southeast Alabama Baptist Hispanic Ministry Coalition food pantry operated by Coffee Baptist Association and The Daily Bread Shop operated by Shelby Baptist Association. Other associations operate full-service ministry centers like that of Pleasant Grove Association, including Covington Baptist Association and Columbia Baptist Association, Swafford said.

Calhoun Baptist Association (CBA) receives funds from the SBOM as well. Jim Davis, associate director of church and community ministries and director of the association’s two service centers, said the funds help provide a valuable resource for the people in his area.

“The mission statement of our Baptist service centers is to be ‘a spiritual resource for the poor and downtrodden in our community,’ and one way we do that is through the distribution of food,” Davis said.

The CBA Baptist service centers distribute 9–10,000 pounds of food each month, so keeping food on the shelves is a constant challenge, Davis said. While churches provide much of the financial and volunteer support to the CBA service centers, hunger funds are another valuable part of the overall effort.

“The funds we receive through Southern Baptist World Hunger contributions help us buy food and cover the cost of food vouchers we provide to clients for the purchase of perishable food items,” Davis said. 

Ministering to the needs of the hungry then provides an opportunity to share the gospel with clients, Davis said. Last year 69 people were saved through the CBA service centers ministry. So far this year, 34 more have accepted Christ, Davis said.

“The downturn of the economy has definitely brought an ever-increasing number of people to our centers to request assistance, but it has also brought us ever-increasing opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Davis said. 

Davis said he often receives thank you notes from those who have sought help at the service centers, and sometimes, those notes include checks.

Wiggins believes it is important to remember that many people who seek assistance do so as a last resort, like a woman from Tuscaloosa County he encountered recently at the Pleasant Grove Association service center. The woman lost eight relatives in the March 2011 tornado that struck Tuscaloosa and her home was severely damaged. Once her home was repaired, she took in eight homeless friends. 

Last week, he said, they came to the point where none of them had any food and there was no other help available. The ability to help people like her, he said, is what it truly means to feed the hungry in Jesus’ name.

“We minister to people in crisis two times a week,” he said. “I wish we could do more, but it is so important that we are here to do that.”

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