Bethany Lutheran Church of West Branch, IA has a long history of reaching out and caring for people in the community. For over ten years the congregation has provided food and supplies to the West Branch Food Pantry. Volunteers deliver the donated items and pass on the Pantry’s specific food and supply requests to the congregation through newsletter articles and announcements. Having a direct relationship with the Food Pantry staff means that their immediate or emergency needs can be quickly communicated to the congregation.
The use of the local Food Pantry has been increasing steadily over the past few years, and the congregation has responded with increased giving. During the summer of 2011, the Food Pantry staff told Bethany that they could not keep up with the demand. Congregation members responded by contributing around twenty bags of groceries and supplies every two weeks from July through October. Combined with other congregations in the community, as well as a Boy Scout food drive, the West Branch Food Pantry currently has a comfortable surplus.
The Pantry’s surplus is enough that in November, Pantry staff requested that members of the congregation consider donating money to Bethany’s Good Samaritan Fund, rather than buying food. This fund was established to assist individuals or families in need of financial assistance in the West Branch Community. Recently there has been an increase in individuals and families contacting local churches for help with utilities, rent, and other expenses, as many local agencies’ funds are depleted. The Food Pantry staff refer people to the local churches when they ask about monetary assistance, and currently see more need in this area than for adding to the Pantry’s food stores.
Bethany has received several notes of gratitude from the Food Pantry staff telling about how they rely on the congregation’s donations to keep the pantry stocked over the long term, not just a few times per year and that they know that the congregation will be there to provide for the needs of those using the pantry.
The mission statement of Bethany Lutheran Church is: “To grow so deep in Christ through worship, education, and fellowship that we celebrate by reaching out to others”. Bethany’s members are reaching out to others in the local community to serve a basic need: having enough to eat. The congregation does this to help their neighbors and reveal to them the love of Christ in a concrete way. Many members say that this is a way for them to understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40:” Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”