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By Emma Tilley

This year COVID-19 has altered the very way we do life and ministry. During this year, we have stood face to face with the fragility of life. As the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, “all is hevel (or breath).” Our jobs, our food systems, our health: they are all fragile. The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed so starkly the ways life can be even more fragile for those who are homeless, in minority communities and work in service jobs.

In March, when Richmond’s First Baptist Church went virtual, Steve Blanchard began rethinking how the Ministry of Compassion could continue to serve our neighbors safely in this critical time. Feeding people has become his top priority. Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in America, estimates in 2020 about 54 million people in our country will experience food insecurity with 18 million of those being children.1


The food pantry was moved quickly to the corner of Flamming Hall and converted to a walk-up model. A place where our church once gathered together to eat every week now looks like a small grocery store currently serving around 280 people each week. Every Monday and Thursday anyone can walk up to the back door of the gym, be given a list on which to indicate the items they need, and be handed a bag full of their choice of canned goods, toiletries, clothes, shoes, a bag lunch or cleaning supplies. This summer the food pantry also began offering vegetables grown in our community access plot at Charlotte Acres. This partnership allows our pantry to make available fresh, healthy food to those we serve.

Throughout the year the number of clients has steadily increased as the pandemic wages on and word spreads about our ministry. Social workers, agencies or clients can also call ahead and order boxes of food throughout the week for pick up. Starting in August the mobile market resumed going out every first and third Saturdays to St. Luke’s Apartments and Glen Lea Elementary School. The FBC compassion van is stocked with food, fresh vegetables and cleaning supplies. We typically see a surge in clients at the end of the month when federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits run out and money is tight. These food supplies help families and individuals have consistent access to food.

Finding a way to operate the shower ministry during the pandemic was another concern. This took some brainstorming to find a safe way to allow our homeless neighbors to have access to a shower. In July, the Baptist General Association of Virginia provided FBC a shower trailer, with individual shower units, to continue to offer showers to our homeless neighbors. The shower trailer is located in the Mulberry Street parking lot and currently operates Mondays and Thursdays.

The Ministry of Compassion would not be possible without our weekly pantry and mobile market volunteers, Charlotte Acres produce delivery drivers, shoppers, shower attendants and cleaning staff, FBC support staff and many others. Above all, we are incredibly thankful for your generous gifts throughout this year. We have not been together in person these past months, but we have felt the love of your gifts and prayer. Every Monday and Thursday, the volunteers in the food pantry are blessed to be the ears of the church. We hear “thank you,” “God bless you all” amid frustration and struggles, and sometimes someone comes in singing a song to the Lord. I hope when you pray and give to this ministry, you hear those voices of gratitude and hope in your heart.

Check out the website for more updates on the compassion ministry.       


1 https://www.feedingamerica.org/about-us/press-room/feeding-america-study-projects-local-food-insecurity-rates-amid-pandemic-could

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