For the second time this year, two Waterloo churches recently gave away boxes of food.
First Baptist Church and Redeemer Church partnered to distribute approximately 1,200 boxes on Dec. 5 to local churches, food pantries and people in need through the Farmers to Families Food Box program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Anything that we can do that is helpful for our community, that allows for us to meet a need and potentially engage some folks that we normally wouldn’t interact with, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to help that happen,” Worship and Administrative Pastor Greg Braswell said of why the church participated in that program. “It was a no-brainer for us.”
The USDA launched the program earlier this year after the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to help feed those affected by the pandemic and recoup losses suffered by farmers and food distributors.
In the four rounds of distributions, which began in May, over 126 million boxes of food have been invoiced through the program. That is almost $3 billion worth of food purchased.
The boxes contain fresh produce, dairy products, milk and meat, and they are allocated to each state based on need.
Braswell said he first learned of the program through friends in ministry in the Madison County area who received food over the summer.
In early autumn, Shayne Robinson, pastor of Redeemer Church, told Braswell he had been contacted by the USDA to see if they would like to distribute food boxes.
The churches decided to partner to make that happen, giving away their first round of food in late October.
“We just want to be a blessing and make sure this food doesn’t go to waste,” Braswell said. “And it’s helping the farmers and distributors who would have lost a ton of dollars if that food had spoiled.”
The process for setting up the giveaways can be fairly hectic.
Prior to the most recent shipment, the churches had only about two weeks notice that they could get a truckload of food, and the USDA only confirmed the shipment a couple days before Dec. 5.
That means the churches must scramble to get all the volunteers needed to make the event happen. Once that is done, volunteers help give out boxes of food.
This time, boxes went to local food pantries like House of Neighborly Service or the Concord Presbyterian Church Food Pantry, area churches and individuals.
With so little advance notice, it is difficult to let individuals know about the opportunity, so Braswell said much of the traffic comes from news spreading via word of mouth.
Those who hear about it expressed gratitude when picking up the food, Braswell said.
“Everybody was not only grateful that we were able to do it, but there were several folks who were just shocked that it was free and they could take as much as they needed with no strings attached,” he said. “It was incredible for us to just relieve some of the stress and be a blessing. You can take that $35 you would have spent on the groceries in that box and use it for something else you need.”
The Farmers to Families Food Box program is set to end at the end of the year, but Braswell said there may be one more shipment before the end of the month.
“If they call, we’re going to answer and do everything we can to be able to do that,” Braswell said of distributing food again. “But at this point, I’m not sure if they’ll call us or not.”