By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
LANDOVER HILLS, Md.—When Sandra Griesemer and Lisa Shutak go shopping, it’s not unusual for their shopping carts to contain 1,100 pounds of produce, 100 pounds of bread and 50-60 gallons of milk.
And that’s just for one week!
That’s because they direct a Feed My Sheep food pantry at Landover Hills Baptist Church, a church located inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway.
The church offers a client-choice pantry, which offers guests the opportunity to pick one thing of their choice from each of the 10-plus cabinets of food, which are organized by food types—pasta, canned vegetables and fruit, breakfast items and more. Occasionally, toiletry products and other items, such as cleaning supplies and over-the-counter medicines, are made available as well.
That means their guests—it is free to all who wish to receive the benefits regardless of income—leave with three-to-four bags of food, “from produce to eggs to bread” and non-perishable items, Griesemer said. Sandra is the wife of Pastor David Griesemer.
The food is a mixture of free leftovers from Panera Bread as well as purchased food from the Capital Area Food Bank, where the church has been established as a partnering agency.
The church budgets $110 a week to shop at the food bank, which charges by the pound. There, Griesemer and Shutak do not know what the quantities or the items available until the afternoon of the distribution. In addition, the time to shop at the food bank is limited so they have fine-tuned their weekly excursions to be able to purchase as much as they can.
“We always manage to have enough!” Shutak marveled. “Each week we see God’s blessings.”
The pantry is open on Wednesdays in the morning and evening and is led by at least 30 volunteers, from ages 4 to 80-something. Surprisingly, most volunteers are church members who aren’t otherwise volunteering in the church.
“As volunteers lead each ‘shopper,’ they’re not just saying, ‘One here. One here,’” Shutak said, explaining the church’s desire is to build personal relationships with each of the guests. “They are getting to know each person.”
And rather than offering bags of pre-selected food items, the church volunteers “actually listen to their needs and concerns and try to accommodate them,” she said.
The volunteers also share recipes and other information to help the guests make their food go further. In the future, they want to host cooking classes.
According to the Capital Area Food Bank’s 700 partner agencies, there is a tremendous increase in those seeking food assistance in the area—from 30 to 100 percent. Much of this is due to job loss, the economy, high cost of housing, lack of health care and other issues.
So far, several of the guests have started coming to the church worship services, and one person has made a decision to follow Christ. In addition, several of the guests go to the Iglesia Bautista Torre Fuerte, the Hispanic ministry of the church.
Leftover perishable items are given away at the local Laundromat, which gives another opportunity for the church to connect to the community.
In addition to the food pantry, Landover Hills offers annual clothing and school supply giveaways. This year the church shared with 267 area residents, a much higher number, compared to their humble beginnings when only 50 guests came five years ago.
“It’s neat for me to see all these backpacks that I know came from the church on kids walking up the sidewalks to their bus stops,” said Pastor Griesemer.
“It touches my heart what happens here,” Sandra Griesemer agreed. “You thank God, not the church. He provides!”
To learn more, visit www.lhbcmd.org.