Members of the congregation at Bethlehem Christian Reformed Church in Thunder Bay, Ont., are participating in two community programs to ensure that people in their neighborhood don’t go hungry.
In April, Bethlehem CRC joined The Bread Box, a biweekly distribution of food hampers supplied by the community’s Regional Food Distribution Association. That organization supports over 30 different food banks in the Thunder Bay region.
Marg Rekman, pastor of Bethlehem CRC, said the church began participating after being asked by the association “because the church is in an area of high need and all other food banks would require families to take a cab or bus to access food.”
Every other week on a Tuesday a delivery truck from the association drops off boxes of food to the church. Volunteers then sort and organize the food into family-sized portions. On Wednesday people line up at the church to retrieve the packed boxes, or in the case of people with mobility concerns, volunteers make deliveries. The whole operation takes about 25 volunteers—some from Bethlehem, some from other churches, and some from the community.
Jennifer Drost, church member and volunteer, said the association has identified about 100 households close to Bethlehem CRC that might have need of or already access a foodbank. So far, she said, they have distributed between 30 and 50 hampers each Bread Box day. As winter approaches and word about the program spreads, they anticipate more people to access the services, Drost said.
“The Bread Box is also a place where community is being built,” said Fred Rekman, another church member and volunteer. “We as volunteers are meeting new people from the community and hearing some of their stories. We pray that they see the church as a welcoming and safe place.”
The church has one fridge and two freezers used to store extra items to ensure that boxes distributed to neighbors are always full. Any produce left over from The Bread Box is placed into the Blessing Box—a 24/7, two-shelf cupboard that the deacons of the church opened about two years ago after being approached by the city.
Pastor Marg Rekman described it as a mini pantry where you “take what you need and leave what you can.” Eight volunteers from the church stock it daily with food items and toiletries.
Drost said that because of the Blessing Box, when restrictions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, “we felt like our church still had a presence in the community without having the church doors open.”