Posted: 5/19/17 at 3:20pm. Article by Caitlin Figura.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
The Red Truck Ministry is a perfect illustration of the importance of right timing in any partnership, missions venture, or Kingdom-sized dream.
Dr. Robert Putt, senior pastor of West Lynchburg Baptist Church, sees the rightness of God’s timing in the early success of the Lynchburg Baptist Association’s (LBA) Red Truck Ministry. The Red Truck Ministry has recently fed 184 families and engaged over 60 volunteers in its first four weeks of operation in a Lynchburg food desert, an impact five years in the making.
Five years in the making
In 2012, the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) received a grant from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering for a mobile grocery unit that would bring fresh produce, meat, and dairy to Virginia’s food deserts. Food deserts are economically disadvantaged communities in which residents lack access to affordable, healthy food.
Soon after receiving this grant, the BGAV welcomed Joel Ingram as a hunger specialist. After much discussion and research about the proper vehicle, Ingram drove to Pennsylvania to purchase an old Coca-Cola delivery truck for the venture.
Over the next year, a Disaster Response volunteer refurbished the truck to accommodate the necessary refrigerator and freezer units. After the Red Truck’s debut at the BGAV meeting in Roanoke that year, it was field tested in Richmond at Northminster, an urban congregation with an existing feeding ministry. There, a team developed a system for setting up the shopping experience and learned the importance of providing products appropriate to the cultural preferences of the community.
Recognizing the opportunity
In 2016, a group of pastors in the LBA’s weekly minister’s meeting began discussing the problem of food deserts in their own community. For three years, the Red Truck had struggled to find a long-term home with the right church, association, or agency, despite early interest and excitement.
As the pastors prayerfully sought a way for their congregations to improve community access to healthy food, their Field Strategist, Tony Brooks, happened to mention the availability of a Red Truck mobile grocery unit.
The group of pastors had become convicted by Lynchburg’s need and their opportunity for impact through the research of Randolph College’s Dr. John Abell. The economics professor had conducted a 2011 food desert case study and a 2014 project on Lynchburg’s hunger-poverty nexus. The pastors learned that while many Lynchburg ministries are focused on the issue of food scarcity, only four of the 34 food pantries in the city are located within one of the eight food deserts identified.
In the Red Truck, the pastors saw an opportunity to improve food access and build community in these previously unreached food deserts. Guided by principles of trust building and a willingness to “work across denominational and theological boundaries,” the group identified an existing partner in Jericho Baptist Missionary Chapel, which has proximity to several food deserts.
While the Red Truck’s effectiveness is in its mobility and capacity to reach multiple communities, the group recognized the importance of working through an anchor congregation in each neighborhood to provide followup and build relationships between the Red Truck’s weekly visits.
Desiring to provide spiritual as well as physical support, the pastors also ensured the operation would include a significant ministry of prayer to community members shopping at the Red Truck. Volunteers take the time to “listen to the heart issues of people,” Putt says, to “share stories, empathize with, and hug on” one another. One recent prayer time resulted in a young family whose five children were sleeping on the floor receiving a home visit from a pastor and new mattresses for the entire family.
Mobilizing the community
Although the BGAV donated the Red Truck to the Lynchburg Baptist Association as “an answer to prayer” and will provide additional support through World Hunger Funds, the group of pastors knew their biggest challenge would be recruiting the large base of volunteers needed to staff the ongoing ministry. What they did not predict was how much support they would receive from “community folks taking ownership of the work,” says Putt.
In addition to LBA pastors and lay leaders helping with driving, product pickup, inventory, truck maintenance, setup, and distribution, Putt says people who live in the community in which the Red Truck has begun operations are showing up every Wednesday, even “standing out in the rain” to “help out and give back.”
The Red Truck Ministry is also seeing an outpouring of generosity from farms and nonprofits throughout the region, especially after being highlighted in a local news story. The Red Truck is receiving produce from Liberty University’s Campus Farm and apples from the Society of St. Andrew, a connection made at a recent Mission Matters event. In addition, Shelton Miles, beef cattle farmer and pastor of First Baptist Church of Republican Grove, plans to provide River Bluff Farm beef for the Red Truck at a reduced price.
Expanding the ministry
The Red Truck is currently at Jericho Baptist Missionary Chapel every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and will soon begin making stops on an additional day in a different location. However, the ministry wants to ensure healthy partnership with the community and a sustainable volunteer base are in place for this expansion.
To continue building volunteer engagement, another Red Truck volunteer training will take place at West Lynchburg Baptist Church on Saturday, May 25, from 10 a.m. to noon. As the LBA plans to share the Red Truck with other associations for use in Appomattox and Altavista, volunteers from all over the region are welcome. There is no cost or RSVP required to attend.
As momentum around the Red Truck builds, Dr. Putt is quick to remind that it’s “a God thing—nothing we’ve done; just the right time, right circumstances, and right people for it to work.” Nevertheless, in this opportunity the association and community have recognized a “time to build up…a time to embrace…and a time to love.”