Soul Food Pantry

Food inspires. Food nourishes. Food brings people together.

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My ministry: Blue Haven Community Church

They say the best ideas often come while eating, and a Sabbath lunch just over a year ago was no exception. Leah Hodge and a group of her friends, all members of the Blue Haven Seventh-day Adventist Community Church (NSW), were dreaming up ways for their church to outreach and connect with their community.

Their first idea, a soup kitchen, took a nosedive the very next day. A teacher from a local Adventist school told the group his church had been unsuccessful in starting a soup kitchen as there wasn’t a great need.

But then the teacher told them about a different ministry—a food pantry—that was gaining traction in the Lake Macquarie region. The group of friends volunteered one evening and came away impressed. 

"It's brilliant . . . There should be food pantries like this all over New South Wales!"

“That was when we knew that a food pantry was what we wanted to do for our community,” says Leah. “We prayed about it every single day for a few weeks and God blessed our plans.”

And so Blue Haven’s Soul Food Pantry was born, with 35 members from the community queuing up for a bag on the July 7 (2016) opening day.

“We were shocked!” says Leah. “We had no idea we were going to have that many people.”

Since then, the food pantry has been growing. The little church plant with only 20 regular attendees has reached almost 300 people in the Blue Haven community alone, and more than 40 people come faithfully to the pantry each week.

The concept is simple: each Thursday at 6am, a team member drives to the food bank in Sydney. Bags are then filled to the brim with bread, non-perishable items, and fresh fruit and vegetables, and sold to the community for $A5. The money earned from the bags goes toward the running of the food pantry—the food, travel, and re-usable, branded bags.

“It’s brilliant,” says Barbara, a community member. “I’ve only been attending for two weeks now but I wish I’d found it sooner. There should be food pantries like this all over New South Wales!”

But what’s even more inspiring than the bags of food are the volunteers. A ministry like Soul Food Pantry takes a team of workers to make it happen each week, but with the exception of Leah, her mum Elizabeth, Blue Haven senior pastor Danny Milenkov and assistant pastor Dan Brunt, all the volunteers are community members.

“I look forward to this every week with anticipation,” says Pia, a local who volunteers. “I don’t ever plan anything else on a Thursday because my whole day is just devoted to this.”

Through the food pantry, Pia and a few other community members are currently receiving Bible studies and occasionally attend services on Sabbath. But it’s the friendships built that have inspired most of the community members to attend other evangelistic or health programs run by the church.

“Everybody needs food but today more people are really struggling to make ends meet,” says Pastor Milenkov. “This ministry is something that you do where you’re meeting a real need. And it’s reaching people—it has only been a year but we’re already seeing fruit from it.”

Dreams for this ministry are big. Soul Food Kitchen, a quarterly health program and cooking demonstration, has already proven successful, and Leah hopes to run these more regularly. The church is also hoping to buy their own truck to pick up food, and simply just inspire other churches to start their own pantry.

But ultimately, the biggest dream is to keep running the pantry until Jesus comes.

“We prayed about the [Soul Food Pantry] name for so long!” says Leah. “But the whole point of this ministry is to lead them to Christ, through Christ’s method alone—to meet them where they’re at, provide them with their physical needs—so eventually they may see what we’ve got, how we’re being fed spiritually and want that for themselves.”

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