Church food pantry in Baytown still going strong after 26 years
By Steve Lestarjette
In 1987, Missouri Street Church of Christ in Baytown launched a food pantry ministry with donations of bread from a nearby Randall’s Food Store.
Today, after 26 years, 5.5 million pounds of donations, and countless volunteer hours, the food pantry is still serving the needs of area families lacking the most basic of necessities.
“There were those who gave the program a short life,” says church secretary Kathy Read. “Others believed that if God wanted this work to succeed, it would. And they jumped in with both feet and a big heart.”
These days, volunteers bring food each Tuesday from the Houston Food Bank, and pick up goods from Kroger’s on Monday and Tuesday. Other supplies arrive from the Red Barrel, and from food drives hosted by the local Boy Scouts, Lee College, postal workers, and others. Once a year, the pantry is “restocked” with five pallets of produce from KTRK Channel 13’s “Share Your Holiday” food drive.
Each delivery and food drive provides canned goods and non-perishables so desperately needed when parents are out of work, ill, or otherwise low on good fortune. “Some years have been lean,” Read says, “but no family that has qualified for help has gone away without something to eat.”
Donations and grants from the community arrive in a variety of ways. Retirees from Exxon are able to receive grants for their volunteer hours to the pantry. Walmart has a grant program for volunteer workers, too. Local churches, the VFW, Kiwanis Club, and memorial donations provide much-needed support.
“Workers? We couldn’t operate without them!” Read says. “Our oldest is 93. Our 89-year-old has been picking up bread from Kroger’s at least twice weekly for about 14 years, and helps unload the van when it arrives from the Food Bank. The majority of our other volunteers are in their seventies. They help with stocking, bagging and distribution.
“We have several younger men who first came as clients and have become full-time workers in the program. They pick up food from the Food Bank, unload and shelve it, bag and distribute it. As they have been blessed, they continue to bless others.”
Read gives a special shout out to volunteers who pick up food each week from the Food Bank in the church van, and to Jim Moss and his crew with the Baytown Fire and Rescue, who pick up food from schools and the area collection point at Walmart for the KTRK Channel 13 food drive.
It hasn’t always been easy, but blessings outweigh the frustration. Kathy relates the story about a Wednesday when she was ready to “throw in the towel.”
“As always, when leaving, I checked the mailbox,” she recalls.
She found a small envelope inside bearing a name she didn’t recognize. Inside was a small sheet of paper that read, “Thank you for doing the Lord’s work,” and a $100 bill. The name on the envelope was a man who had visited the pantry as a client some weeks earlier. The envelopes containing the bill came weekly for months.
Today the pantry ministry reaches more than 5,000 families, or 18,000 individuals, a year in the Baytown area, making it one of the largest of its kind in the region. “That’s 100 families a week, every week of the year!” Read notes. The day following delivery from KTRK Channel 13’s “Share Your Holidays” food drive, the pantry might serve up to 450 families.
The pantry, located at 3500 S. Highway 146, virtually in the shadow of the Fred Hartman Bridge, is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, except for major holidays. Sign-ups begin at 3:15 p.m., and serving starts by 4. Doors close at 5, or before, if 50 families have been served.
To quality, a person need only bring a personal photo identification and proof of Baytown residency (from a utility bill or item of mail, for instance). The pantry can assist each family once every 30 days.
“Could we do this work on our own? We never have!” the church secretary is quick to add. “This is a work done in the name of Christ, and with God’s blessing and full support. Our Elders would like to see this work continue, and as always, we are in the position to be an instrument of His blessings.”
To contact the church, call 281-427-0459 or visit its website, www.mostchurch.org