This is God's Pantry
Marshall food pantry, at its roots, was a small operation, just serving a few families once a month.
After two and a half years of operation, however, the pantry has expanded into a multi-faceted ministry serving several hundred families each month and reaching diverse people groups, as well as becoming a distinguished community charity.
It was a dream, in the beginning. The Marshall church was small. Lee Swegles, who leads the Adventist Community Services (ACS) center for Marshall, reports that on an average week 18 to 19 members attend. “The Lord kept speaking to us,” Swegles says, “saying that we needed to do a food pantry.”
Swegles and several other members began to lay the groundwork for a food pantry, and as they did so, they decided they weren’t going to “just hand out food.” Swegles and his team wanted their pantry to also be a place where individual’s and families’ spiritual needs could be met. “We pray with everyone who comes through,” Swegles reports. “We strongly believe that this is God’s ministry and God’s pantry.”
After committing the ministry to the Lord, the ACS center’s outreach exploded. Initially, the center was only serving families once a month, but during the height of the pandemic, they realized there was much more of a need, and they opened their doors for weekly deliveries—a leap of faith due to financial challenges.
“We buy food boxes each week,” Swegles shares, “and once a month we get a fresh food delivery.” Each month the center distributes an average of about 150 boxes—reaching a significant number of families throughout their local community and praying with each one.
Operations have not always run smoothly. Several times, the pantry has run low on supplies. Swegles shares that he and his team were beginning to worry that they would be forced to shut down.
“We reached out to a couple of organizations,” Swegles says, and “that very same day” an organization pledged to feed 150 families twice a month, at no cost to the Marshall pantry. All costs would be taken care of by the generous organization.
“Not only did we walk out of that situation with the money,” Swegles says, “but He brought us further [in our ministry].” The center was able to serve more families because they trusted in God by continuing to serve, despite financial uncertainties!
In addition to serving their average of 150 families monthly, Marshall ACS serves more families during the holiday season. “We have done this before,” Swegles says, “up to 75 or 100 families.” The families are given everything they need for a holiday meal. “When Thanksgiving hits,” Swegles says, “they have everything they need to sit down with their families.” The response to these meals is heart-warming. Many individuals have shed tears upon seeing the boxes, saying, “Our family wouldn’t have had a meal if not for this.” This past holiday season, the Marshall center was able to serve 500 families a “full turkey meal—with turkey, pie, stuffing, potatoes—everything needed for a holiday meal,” Swegles shares.
The pantry can serve a significant number of families because of community involvement. Swegles shares that a local insurance company gave a large donation, as well as the owner of a local Hungry Howie’s pizza. “We didn’t ask,” Swegles says, “they were just like, ‘We want to give back, we may not be of your faith, but we want help.’” The pantry’s ministry is noticed by the community, and the community wants to help.
Out of the 500 families who received a Thanksgiving meal, 200 were Amish. The pantry serves Amish families weekly. With every box distributed, Marshall pantry includes a healthy food sample and a recipe for how to make it. Swegles shares the Amish are especially interested in these, as many struggle with common heath issues such as diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease. “The Amish are really big into the health message,” Swegles shares.
In addition, many Muslim families come through the pantry’s doors. The center has a small stock of literature written in Arabic which they include in the family’s food box.
“We get to pray with them,” Swegles says, speaking about everyone who comes through the doors, “but we also get to hand out literature, putting these tracts out there like leaves from the trees in the fall.” The center goes through roughly 300-400 tracts a week.
Through their ministry, providing day-to-day needs, Marshall food pantry can reach people groups often classified as difficult to reach, praying with them and distributing literature. Every action is a seed planted in the heart.
The food panty also expanded their ministry to work with Native Americans in prison. “We look up all the Native Americans in prison across the United States,” Swegles says, “and we send everyone on our list a birthday card.” Correspondence is also kept between some of the individuals, and the ministry has seen results. Prisoners requested Voice of Prophecy Bible studies, and a pastor serving the jail reached out and requested more. “Thirteen prisoners had these studies,” Swegles says, “and he wanted 13 more. He wasn’t even an Adventist pastor.” The simple act of sending a birthday card expanded into something much more.
Swegles and his volunteers are not content with their ministry as it is now—they want to do more! “Right now,” Swegles says, “we have a basket outside our sanctuary—we are just trying to get toothbrushes, toothpaste, and plain simple gifts for kids.” Swegles explains that families come through their center needing more than food. When they gave a teenage girl a toothbrush, she began to cry. “She had been sharing a toothbrush with her siblings for over a year,” Swegles says. Through prayer time, volunteers interacted with families in a more intimate setting, and were able to see the true needs and wants of each family.
“We take things for granted,” Swegles says, “but we have poverty right here in our backyard. We are trying to be an example. No matter how little people you have in your church, you can move mountains.”
“Adventists,” he continues, “step up! People are hurting—God blesses us to be able to do it and He provides. You can’t outgive God on any level.”