In our small city of 65,000+, there are multiple places to get food assistance if you’re hungry. From the giant non-profit to the small neighborhood church, resources seem abundant. Even with all that, there are still those struggling to get by. The pandemic and the economic crisis have driven many people to food pantries and other distribution centers. The need is real, but it isn’t the only need.
Recently, the small church I pastor took up a clothing and food collection to be distributed to partner ministries. What I discovered was that while there were plenty of places to take food, no one was taking clothing. Our city no longer has a Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. Both closed years ago. A tiny thrift store benefiting shelter animals and the resale shop Savers is all we have left. The homeless drop-in center collects and distributes clothing, but has been closed due to COVID. One of the places we normally would donate clothes to is no longer taking anything but new baby clothes. So, currently, if someone is in need of clothing and have little or no money, our city has very few options.
When things started getting desperate, every church and concerned citizen opened up some kind of food ministry or outreach. On one hand, it’s beautiful and encouraging to see the response. On another, it creates a decentralized distribution system that is confusing and overlapping. No one really knows if all the needs are being met, or if the focus is on the same population. In essence, there is more competition than cooperation in an effort that shouldn’t have any winners or losers. And none of this answers the question of where to get some pants, shoes, sweater, or a coat.
Here is the thing I’m driving at: know the needs in your community. Do the work of researching and asking questions. Find out who is doing what, where, and when. Look for the gaps and fill them. Be flexible and adaptable as needs change. As we look at Jesus’ ministry, He wasn’t just about one thing. He met needs as they arose and entered into various heartbreaking situations with grace and compassion. Imagine if Jesus passed up lepers, blind and lame beggars, the possessed and persecuted because He was fixated only on addressing one particular need. Find the gaps, the holes in the net through which people are slipping. If it’s collecting and distributing food, great. If the need is different or more difficult, don’t shy away from addressing it in whatever way you can. Chances are, you’ll find Jesus already at work in those areas, just waiting on some of His people to show up.