Welcome to our blog series—At the Table: Baptist Fight Hunger!
Part 6 is by Anne England, minister to youth at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
By Anne England
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).
These familiar words of Jesus call Christians to discover creative ways to address the needs of others. Through the years meals have been prepared and served, canned goods collected, and water wells drilled, all with the hope of providing food and water with the gift of hospitality.
At Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, we have been looking for innovative ways to serve those in our community and around the world since our church began over 65 years ago.
Our resources are modest, and we are not a megachurch with thousands of members, but we do think it is important to recognize the gifts and abilities within our congregation and find opportunities for individuals to use those gifts.
We are also dedicated to partnering with other organizations within the Jacksonville area and assisting them in helping meet the needs of our community. By working together, we are able to learn from each other while serving God and others.
The Sulzbacher Center in Jacksonville opened in 1995 with a commitment to a holistic method of helping the homeless in our community through meals, education services and a residential center. Hendricks Avenue Baptist has been sending volunteers for years to tutor children and to prepare and serve meals.
Our middle school and high school students are also given the opportunity to be a part of volunteering at The Sulzbacher Center. They can tutor or serve the evening meal once a month.
On an average evening The Sulzbacher Center serves close to 500 meals with a line stretching around the city block. A longtime church member, Joyce Hanson, is dedicated to cooking the evening meal once a month along with a team of Hendricks Avenue church members.
For Joyce this is not just a time and place to volunteer, but her time at The Sulzbacher Center is a part of her routine, a part of the way she lives out her faith. She comments, “Seeing the line of people arrive to eat after the residents are served is especially heartbreaking. The needs are so great, but we can at least do a very small part.”
Another Hendricks Avenue church member, Rebekah Duvall, is an amazing gardener who is helping our congregation start a community garden. The food grown will be given to United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM), a food bank supported by churches in Jacksonville.
UCOM’s home is in an old church building, and several Hendricks Avenue church members also spend hours there every week shelving and organizing the food donated to this local ministry. Rebekah is excited about this community garden idea especially since, as she said, “It will be providing food for a food pantry, not just individuals growing food for themselves. There will always be room for improvement and change with the garden; there’s no telling how it will evolve!”
Hendricks Avenue has also made a long-term commitment and has participated in the Church World Service CROPWalk for 25 years. The CROP Hunger Walks are dedicated to ending hunger locally and globally, so 25 percent of the money raised stays in Jacksonville and is given to UCOM. Children, youth, and adults from different congregations in Jacksonville gather on a Sunday afternoon every fall to walk and support this organization.
This snapshot into some of the opportunities at Hendricks Avenue Baptist does not make us special, only unique in a sense that we are striving to be faithful to who we are as a congregation and to help meet the needs in our community.
We are always seeking to be attentive to how God is working around us and then simply try to respond with our gifts and time. Through long-term partnerships, relationships have formed, but we are also eager to discover new ways to be the presence of Christ.
So, how will your congregation respond to God’s invitation? How will you feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty and welcome the stranger?
Your stories are just as beautiful and unique because your church family has gifts to offer just like ours. We can’t wait to hear how God is using you!
See additional information below about the state of hunger in Duval County, Fla., courtesy of Map the Meal Gap, a project of Feeding America. Check out statistics for your area with this interactive online tool.
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