Answering the call to feed others

United Methodists, including Christy Sprague (pictured here), volunteer at Bridging For Tomorrow, a Houston community center, helping their neighbors, sometimes as many as 1,000 per week, receive food during the uncertainty of the pandemic.  Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, Bridging For Tomorrow.
United Methodists, including Christy Sprague (pictured here), volunteer at Bridging For Tomorrow, a Houston community center, helping their neighbors, sometimes as many as 1,000 per week, receive food during the uncertainty of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, Bridging For Tomorrow.
A pallet of sweet potatoes is ready for distribution at BFT. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
A pallet of sweet potatoes is ready for distribution at BFT. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
United Methodist Jeff Marsh has become a regular volunteer since his retirement in early 2020. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
United Methodist Jeff Marsh has become a regular volunteer since his retirement in early 2020. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
United Methodist Kim Oswald is a regular volunteer at the BFT office. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
United Methodist Kim Oswald is a regular volunteer at the BFT office. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
A BFT volunteer loads food into a client's car. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
A BFT volunteer loads food into a client's car. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
BFT volunteers in action on food distribution day. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.
BFT volunteers in action on food distribution day. Photo courtesy of Hannah Connor, BFT.

Cars start lining up at 8 a.m., six hours before the distributions begin. It’s Tuesday at a northwest Houston community center where as many as 1,000 families receive food weekly.

United Methodists at the location, Bridging For Tomorrow (BFT), have been vital volunteers in helping their neighbors throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic. During the past eight months, food donations have totaled more than 1 million pounds.

Pre-pandemic

BFT, which originated as an outreach ministry at Faithbridge United Methodist Church and became a standalone nonprofit in 2013, never intended to be a mega food bank.

Prior to Covid-19, BFT partnered with neighborhood families for relief and rehabilitation services, including counseling, afterschool programs for kids, flu vaccine clinics and vision screenings, ESL classes and tutoring. Providing food donations on a small scale was only one part of BFT.

Changes in 2020

Annually, BFT was distributing about 13,000 pounds of food as part of its usual operation. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, needs rose in the neighborhood of primarily Hispanic and Vietnamese families. Thankfully, resources did too, including an official partnership with the Houston Food Bank and an influx of volunteers from Faithbridge UMC. Many Faithbridgers, as church members call themselves, were eager to help when the initial call went out.

“This is exactly what I need to be doing,” says Jeff Marsh, a Faithbridger who retired in early 2020.  “For me, it goes back to being obedient to God’s Word. (The Book of) James tells us faith without works is not true faith. We are called upon to live that out. One of the ways to live that out is to serve others. And when we serve in this capacity, we’re also serving Him.”

“As I read through the Bible, I see where God told us to help those who need help,” shares Kim Oswald, a Faithbridger who retired earlier this year to, as she puts it, “become a professional volunteer.”

  Bridging for Tomorrow celebrates the milestone of distributing 1 million pounds of food to the community. Photo courtesy of Bridging for  Tomorrow. 
Bridging For Tomorrow staff and volunteers celebrate the milestone of distributing 1 million pounds of food in 2020, an exponential increase over its annual average of 13,000 pounds. Photo courtesy of Bridging For Tomorrow.

Oswald spends 15 hours per week in the BFT office with a variety of tasks, including helping with client intake forms and registering volunteers. Post-Covid, she plans to add reading to the younger children to her list.

“I do it because I want to do it. I can do it. Not for recognition but because God says that’s what you need to do,” Oswald states.

Jennifer Burton, another Faithbridger, is a longtime BFT volunteer who helps with fundraising for the nonprofit. When the call when out for food distribution workers, she signed up.

“I got hooked and fell in love with the process,” she says, explaining that her shift involves packing dry goods, packing produce, putting boxes in vehicles and interacting with the people in line.

“There’s always this impact of seeing all of these cars drive up and realizing what it’s really about and knowing that someone is waiting for five or six hours for a box of food and they don’t even know what they are getting,” she says. “It’s super powerful to see their smiles and appreciation.

“I feel God’s presence every time I’m there.”

Serving more than food

In addition to serving more than triple the number of families within BFT’s previous capacity, BFT hit the remarkable milestone of distributing more than 1 million pounds of food in 2020, an accomplishment only made possible by BFT’s faithful volunteers.

“I think when people will look back on the time of COVID, yes, there has been hardship and heartbreak,” says Christy Sprague, BFT executive director and Faithbridger. “But what I will remember is the way that this community of believers has come together.

“As God’s people, as the church, this is our opportunity to be a light in the midst of darkness, to be joy and peace in the midst of fear and pain. When cars are coming through, volunteers are saying ‘God bless you. Jesus loves you,’ just blessing the people as they go by. I know that’s why our little pantry is serving so many people. Even if they don’t know it, they are being blessed by the love of Christ.”

*Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.
This story was published on November 20, 2020.