When First Baptist Church, Cairo, Georgia, hosted its first “manna drop” last August, the need for food was so great in the community that many area residents lined up two hours before the event’s opening.
Volunteers handed out 400 boxes of nonperishable food, frozen meat, dairy products and produce that day at the drive-up distribution held at the church. But that was just the start.
As word of the food ministry spread throughout his congregation, Pastor Chris Allen said church members responded generously and within the next few days donated enough money to fund another distribution, nicknamed a “manna drop.”
At that event last November, volunteers from the church gave away 500 food boxes in 2 1/2 hours.
The church’s drive-up food ministry began as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Allen recalled watching the pandemic amplify the needs of his rural community in southwest Georgia, where many people already were battling poverty.
Last summer, he met with the church’s missions committee to discuss community needs and to strategize how First, Cairo, could best help.
“Of course, we are concerned with the spiritual need but from a physical need standpoint, we realized that people needed food,” said Allen, who suggested the idea of doing a manna drop in partnership with Second Harvest of South Georgia, a hunger relief organization.
Second Harvest partners with local ministries to put resources such as canned and perishable food items within easier reach of the families who need them. A mobile food pantry and distribution events enabled the organization and ministry partners to supply more than 16 million meals in 2020.
According to Eliza McCall, Second Harvest’s chief marketing officer, South Georgia has the highest rates of food insecurity in the state and among the highest in the nation.
The need has increased drastically due to COVID-19, she added, but the region’s ability to respond has decreased.
“At least one-third of our partner agencies have either changed or discontinued their ministries,” McCall said.
At the same time, Second Harvest has increased its mass food distributions across South Georgia from once a year to three times a month, she said.
“We’ve been serving between 1,500 to 2,000 families at each of these, but we still have to turn people away,” McCall said. “The lines are miles long waiting for assistance. We’re seeing many families who need help that have never had to ask for assistance before now.”
First, Cairo, already had worked with Second Harvest before the manna drop events, packing about 20 bags of food each week for students at Cairo’s Northside Elementary School. That partnership paved the way for the drive-up food ministry funded by money from the church’s missions budget.
While COVID-19 has limited close interaction with recipients at the manna drops, Allen said people in every car receive a gospel tract and information about the church.
“The church has a great opportunity and responsibility to help meet physical needs when possible,” Allen said. “This leads to the opportunity to love on people and tell them that Jesus loves them also. Ultimately, our goal is to introduce people who are far away from God to His Son Jesus.”
More than 50 First, Cairo, members ages 7 through 80 helped with the last “manna drop” by directing traffic, distributing gospel tracts, loading food boxes into cars and talking with food recipients.
Allen said the church is eager to love their community and to help residents know the love of Jesus. Food ministry events give the congregation opportunities to serve their community and to grow closer to one another despite pandemic-related restrictions.
“This ministry gave a greater opportunity for church members to be involved, especially on a Saturday,” said First, Cairo, volunteer Gary Keve. “The hands-on ministry allowed our members to serve others, realize how blessed we are and get to know each other better.”
And with funds set aside in the 2021 budget, Allen said the congregation has discussed hosting bimonthly food giveaways as a continued outreach to the Cairo community.
“I really think this is the beginning of an even larger opportunity to reach Cairo and Grady County for the Lord,” he said.