The holiday season is a time to count your blessings and share what you have with others who are less fortunate. The congregation at the First Baptist Church, located at 200 W. Central Street in downtown Valdosta, strives to do just that. They operate a clothing ministry, help with the local Habitat for Humanity, and assist with disaster relief efforts. At this time of year, however, it’s their food ministry that stands out, especially their Feed the Needy meal on December 24th.
The Food Bank
The Food Bank operated by the First Baptist Church is open two days a week, Monday and Saturday, from 9 am to 12 pm. The church works hand in hand with Second Harvest to make sure there is enough food on hand each week to meet the needs of those who rely on the food bank. Willie Hodgins who helps to run the Food Bank said, “I can’t wait to get here on Saturday mornings. I get up early so I can come down and get coffee started and get things ready. I’m excited to see what the day holds.” He also said, “The Food Bank runs strictly off of love donations. It is not part of the Church’s budget, so everything you see here is possible because of donations designated for the Food Bank.
Feeding the Needy at Christmas
In addition to the Food Bank, the ministry also hosts the Feed the Needy Christmas Eve meal. Volunteers like Joey Griffin show up at 3 am the day before to get the grills ready and start with the food prep. Entire families arrive to help prepare the meal and often stay long enough to see it served. Willie said, “There’s nothing like the sight of a child, a toddler, with rubber gloves on trying to help serve the food. They are determined to help and it shows on their faces.” A huge smile takes over his face as he reminds me that even the Bible says, “And a child shall lead them.”
The church is set up to start serving the food around 9 am on Christmas Eve, but the line of people waiting on meals often forms before 8 am. The meals are served until noon. Some of the meals are delivered to shut-ins, while others drive up through the parking lot of the church to pick up their meals. Some people walk to the church knowing a meal will be waiting for them. On average, the church’s Feed the Needy program serves approximately 2000 meals each year on Christmas Eve.
We Feed Them, They Feed Us
Chad Harrison, one of the church’s volunteers who has been with the program from the very beginning said, “We start out feeding them. Then, we realize they are feeding us. Some arrive hungry and others ask for someone to pray with them. The giving goes both ways.” The giving starts not with the meal, but with the gathering of the volunteers in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone who shows up to help takes on a task and forges ahead until the last meal is served and the clean-up is finished. Willie Hodgins said, “I have never been a part of anything so rewarding as this ministry. I’ve seen a lot of things in my 87 years, but nothing compares to this.” Over 100 people gather together to make this holiday meal possible.
Volunteers Are Welcome!
“Bring yourself! Bring your family! We love having people volunteer!” According to Willie, volunteers are always welcome. They are what the Feed the Needy program is all about. While the volunteers serve the food, others are talking to those in line. Some people want prayers, others end up sharing their stories. By the time the food has been served and the clean-up has begun, everyone in attendance has been fed either by food or by spirit, and in most cases, it’s a little bit of both.
As the Christmas season gets underway, take a look around and count your blessings. Pay it forward when you can. You can donate to the Feed the Needy program by writing a check to the First Baptist Church and putting “Food Bank” as the memo. Both Willie and Chad agreed that without the generosity of the community both in the form of monetary donations and volunteering, the Food Bank and the Feed the Needy program would not be able to serve the public the way they do now. Volunteer at the Christmas Eve meal or stop by and attend one of the services. Everyone is always welcome!!
The First Baptist Church is located at 200 W. Central Street in downtown Valdosta. If you have questions or are interested in more information, you can call 229-242-0484.