During the public health crisis, customer Ella Huffman made this sign to express her appreciation for the Bread of Life volunteers.
Bread of Life Food Bank Adapts During the Coronavirus Crisis
By Diane Butler
Since 2012, the Bread of Life food bank in Redding had hummed along in its outreach to those in the community. Every Wednesday morning at nine the doors opened and anywhere from 60 to 100 people congregated in the common area waiting for their turn to select from available grocery items.
A ministry of the Palo Cedro church operating out of the community center on the campus of Redding Adventist Academy, Bread of Life had become more than just a source of food for those trying to make ends meet or for others with no place to live. Food bank customers grew accustomed to the personal attention they received and began feeling free to share their stories with church members serving them. Bread of Life turned into a place of fellowship and comfort for its clients, many of whom welcomed the opportunity for prayer and relationship with those who cared about their lives. Bread of Life became fertile ground for planting the seed of God’s love.
Then the coronavirus came along and changed the way people went about life.
“At first I was in favor of shutting down,” says Gloria Frost, a volunteer in charge of managing those who help customers select food items. Not everyone agreed. “Well, If we’re going to stay open, we’re going to have to find a way to be safe,” she told those who wanted to keep going.
With President Trump’s approval for food pantries to continue operating, state and county guidelines would have to be followed. Bread of Life would need to modify its way of distributing goods. Instead of bringing customers into the food bank where they could choose the items they needed, they would be handed a bag of food at the entrance by volunteers wearing masks. There would be no gathering of those who came for food or more - a friendly smile, a touch, a conversation, a word of prayer. The Scripture-based “morning message” by church Elder Jerry Williams would not be delivered, and no prayer would be said before food distribution.
“It is a big change from our usual operation,” says Janet McCloud, coordinator for Bread of Life. “We drop a tract or Scripture verse into the bag each week and try to visit a bit when they pick up their groceries, but we’re aware that people are having to stand in a long line. Before we had more time to visit and connect with people.”
Longtime customer Carrie Murdick is grateful for the continuation of food distribution. “Because of Bread of Life, we can have the essentials like milk, bread, eggs, and cereal that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family otherwise. The volunteers are always so friendly and full of compassion. When I need prayer, they pray with me. It fills my life with hope, strength, love and joy.”
Carrie brings her seven-year old son James, a Bread of Life favorite, with her when she comes to get her bag. “There’s Carrie and James!” volunteers call from the entry way as Carrie drives by so James can wave to everyone.
“Even if we had decided not to stay open, our customers could have gone to other food sources in the area,” says Janet McCloud. “But there is a connection between them and us that makes them want to be here. That is the hard part. We miss each other and hugging one another. Our customers are our friends. We were determined to continue serving them during this time.
Another customer Carrie Atkinson acknowledges how Bread of Life impacts lives. “The Bread of Life team has remained available to provide stability and provision to those of us in need. My family and I wouldn’t have made it without the resources they provide.”
“We are still having four or five new people each week,” says Janet, who is currently doing an online Bible study with a customer. “The important thing is that we share the love of Jesus and open the door for them to come into the fold.”
In agreement, Janet’s husband and Bread of life volunteer Peter McCloud quotes from Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it, and then, finally, the end will come.”
Bread of Life volunteers continue to touch lives as they can. Volunteer Mike Copithorne watches for those he knows well at the door and hands them special reading material. “Mike has connected with so many people,” says Janet. “He continues to nurture these connections.”
“It’s a challenge to reach people with social distancing in place, but we still pray with them as we are able and give them air hugs,” she says.