Map of Illinois showing Effingham.
Free Food Drive Thru poster.
Social-distance requirements force congregations to re-configure how they collect and deliver food to hungry neighbors.

Free Food Drive Thru

The people of the First Presbyterian Church of Effingham, Illinois have been collecting food for hungry neighbors for many, many years. Church members dropped the food off in Hagman Hall, the congregation's multi-purpose room, when they came to Sunday worship or when they came to a committee meeting.

Sometimes the food donations were dedicated in worship and the youth group delivered the food to a local food pantry. Other times a representative of the congregation's Presbyterian Women chapter delivered a car load of canned goods, pasta, and peanut butter to one of the county's food pantries. Responding to hungry neighbors has always been a part of this congregation. Just as it has been a part of many churches around the world.

COVID-19 forced churches, like Effingham, First, to be creative in how they collected and distributed the food their neighbors needed. It was no longer possible to bring canned goods to worship or whenever you were going to a church committee meeting. The building was locked down. The leadership of caring congregations had to be innovative and organize new ways of collecting food. You can't collect cans of creamed corn through a Zoom meeting.

Distributing food was an even bigger problem. Some of the county's food pantries were not able to provide appropriate social distance. Some were located where drive-through distribution was not practical. Every aspect of existing hunger programs had to be re-examined, adapted, and changed.

Almost overnight, there were many, many more neighbors out of work and desperate for food. Being the Church during this pandemic is less about choir music and preaching and more about service. Now, believers share God's love not in the sanctuary or in the Sunday School room, but in the parking lot and drive way.

Volunteers wearing masks and gloves quickly pass bags of food through car windows. The individual bags have enough food for a person for a day. The family-size bags have enough for 3-4 people for a day. On average, 100 cars a day drive away from the church with food.

Pastor Katie Orth told a newspaper reporter, "We have people drive through almost every day to give us a check or donate food to help us. Centenary United Methodist Church has been especially generous in helping us sustain our needs. It makes my heart feel good to see a community step up and help."

A free food drive thru like at Effingham, First, is an answer to many prayers. It is also a powerful, public declaration of the love of God.

To learn more about mission, see The PCUSA Mission Yearbook.

Beginning March 17, 2020, the Free Food Drive Thru has distributed food to about 100 cars a day in the church driveway.

Matthew 25:34-40

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,a you did it to me.

a Gk these my brothers

The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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