Feeding people, helping hurting souls
Story and photos by Lainee Pegelow | May 19, 2023
Ensuring no one goes hungry is a core value of Helping Hands Food Pantry, a ministry of First Southern Baptist Church of Kingman.
Last fall, Pastor John Ramos asked church member Phil Yocum to pray about taking charge of the church’s food pantry ministry and guide it to grow and reach their community. Yocum quickly connected with another church member, Scott Molby, who had served several years in food ministry in Minnesota. Yocum believed this connection to be an affirmation of his calling to serve his church and community.
During the past several months, the ministry has grown. Initially serving around 60 families a month, they now serve more than 2,000 individuals.
At first, the food came from Tucson, but they now have an official partnership with St. Mary’s Food Bank and receive their food supply from Phoenix.
In the beginning, they did weekly runs to Peach Springs on the Hualapai Reservation, taking food to those in need.
Today, they feed their community at First Southern, Kingman, and at Cornerstone Baptist Church, Kingman, their satellite location.
“We have people come who live on the street, people who are homeless and live in their cars, people who have families and are out of work, couples with families where both parents are working but struggling to make ends meet, mothers with a restraining order against an abusive father and husband, and many other situations with people in desperate need,” Yocum said.
As Yocum and Molby work together to ensure this much-needed ministry continues, they have seen Helping Hands evolve to meet their community’s needs.
Yocum said he and Molby traveled to food banks in the area, gleaning knowledge and insight. The desire to feed their community both physically and spiritually set Helping Hands apart from other food services.
People are not required to pray or have a spiritual conversation to receive food. However, once they have their goods in hand and are outside, volunteer staff are available to visit with guests and address spiritual needs, if the guests are willing.
The volunteers wear T-shirts that say, “How can I pray for you today?” They ask each person if they would like prayer and pray on the spot if allowed. This has opened dialogue with individuals and families the ministry is seeking to serve and has resulted in 16 people giving their lives to Christ.
In the beginning, the church had a closet and a trailer parked in their lot for dry storage, as well as a few residential refrigerators and freezers. In time, a room was converted with shelves, tables and industrial appliances, allowing individuals to walk through and gather what they need.
“It gives them dignity to come ‘shop’ for what they need and provides opportunity for us to build relationships,” Yocum said.
The reasons for serving probably equal the number of volunteers.
“I serve because I love to see the community heal,” said Noah Ramos, a weekly volunteer.
Christina Haban, a church member originally from Argentina, said she is blessed. “The Lord called me to my church for a reason,” she said. “It was this ministry.”
As Arizona Southern Baptists, we have all served Kingman through Helping Hands Food Pantry. Because churches give to the Cooperative Program through the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists, grants are available to assist churches with evangelistic endeavors.
First Southern applied for and received a grant from the Arizona Mission Network to purchase a commercial refrigerator and freezer. In financial partnership with the River Valley Mission Network and with the grant funding and contributions from church members, Helping Hands purchased two commercial refrigerators and a commercial freezer and then donated two of their original appliances to the satellite location.
This simple purchase has had a direct impact on serving the community, Yocum said.
“Prior to this, we struggled every week not having enough space to store perishable food,” he said.
Oftentimes, they put items in the trailer and ran the air conditioner, an added expense.
One of the biggest challenges this ministry faces is having enough food, Yocum said.
“We often scramble to make sure there are items for the days we are open,” he said. “We trust the Lord to meet the needs and reach Kingman.”
Samantha Puperi, a local teacher receiving from this ministry, shared, “When I first came, I was so blessed by the volunteers asking what I needed prayer for. It made me feel so welcome. I know they are here to help, not just do the job; I can see their servants’ hearts.”
- Look for needs in your community that are not being met. Then determine if a present ministry in your church could be ramped up or a new ministry started to address the need.
- Seek advice from other Arizona Southern Baptist churches who are already active in the specific ministry area.
- Find out about available community partners, as Helping Hands Food Pantry partners with St. Mary’s Food Bank.
- Enlist volunteers who have a passion to serve, and involve your congregation.
- Ask God to open doors to share the Gospel.
- Find out how your church is serving and reaching the community and join in!
Lainee Pegelow, a freelance writer and photographer, is communications specialist, missions coordinator and a campus missionary for Christian Challenge AZ. She is a member of Challenge Church, Flagstaff.