The congregation at Akron Bible Church began its food ministry more than 30 years ago by providing Christmas meals for 12 families.
Today, that ministry, called Baskets of Love, has grown to include a year-round emergency food pantry, which also provides food for Kathy’s Kitchen at the church’s Hope Cafe, and the distribution of 1,000 food baskets to families during the Christmas season.
“We have seen how, by faith, the Lord has provided all those baskets,” said Henri Etta Fletcher-Lockhart, who directs the food ministry with her husband, Larry. “It’s about believing God and what he can do.”
The small church, which attracts about 175 people to Sunday services, has trusted God to supply Christmas food baskets when there was as little as $27 in its bank account. Somehow, after fervent prayer, enough food has been available to meet the needs of the ministry.
“We don’t do anything here without praying first,” said the Rev. Randy Baker, senior pastor at Akron Bible Church. “It’s not like we’ve got a lot of money laying around, but we’ve got food, and we’ve got food because God has touched the hearts of people and they have made donations. I always say that the best nation is a donation.”
It was because of a donation that the Christmas food basket ministry now includes a permanent food pantry on South Street, across from the church’s Hope Cafe, 335 E. South St. — an Akron Bible Church outreach that provides a safe gathering place in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. The building that houses the food pantry, called the Agape Storehouse, was given to the church in April; the first monthly food distribution was in October.
The Lockharts said the ultimate goal is to provide emergency food supplies on a weekly basis to families referred through InfoLine and other ministries and organizations. The food pantry is already the source of ingredients for meals served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Kathy’s Kitchen at the Hope Cafe.
Ronald Lipo, who described himself as homeless, said he typically stops in for the meals.
“I always know I can get a good meal here. I come in hungry, but I always leave full,” Lipo said. “The people who serve us here understand that we have to survive. Being here makes it easier for people who really need something to eat, and it keeps you from doing things that you shouldn’t be doing because you’re desperate for something to eat.”
Kathy Wilkins, who prepares the meals and runs the kitchen, said she is only doing what she believes God wants her to do. As a South Street resident, she also started the neighborhood block watch and serves as its captain.
“We welcome anybody who wants to come to get something to eat. We get quite a few people from the neighborhood who just need a little help with stretching their budgets. Everybody needs some help, from time to time,” Wilkins said.
“I do this from my heart. I don’t serve anything here that I wouldn’t serve to my family at home, and we work to make it a family environment. We want people to sit down, relax, get warm and socialize.”
While Akron Bible Church gets some of its food from the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, it relies on donations from the community to keep everything running smoothly.
“The Lord gave me a vision to grow the ministry beyond the Christmas season and make it a year-round ministry to help people who need food,” said Larry Lockhart, who serves as an assistant pastor at the church. “God’s been blessing the vision, as we work the vision.”
Over the years, the Christmas food outreach ministry has grown with the help of donations from local businesses, individuals and congregations of various faiths. Several Akron-area schools donate items from food drives.
During its peak year, the ministry provided 3,000 Baskets of Love during Christmas. Each box typically includes a turkey, potatoes, flour, sugar, eggs, bread, fruit and canned goods.
This year, the ministry provided 1,000 holiday food baskets and new toys to children in 100 needy families via its Operation Helping Families ministry. The baskets and toys were distributed last week during two services at the church and delivered to homes throughout Akron, including those at senior adult apartment buildings.
On Monday, a 7 p.m. praise service at the church will include a drawing for gifts.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the help of so many people in the community. These Baskets of Love are a way for us to let people know that there is still hope in the world and that the Gospel saves lives,” Baker said. “We believe if we show people love, they will begin to change their minds and when the thinking changes, lives change.”
Donations can be sent to Akron Bible Church, 783 Brown St., Akron, OH 44311. Checks should be made payable to Akron Bible Church Baskets of Love. In addition to donations, the food ministry also seeks volunteers.
For more information, call 330-376-5673 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pantry has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BasketsOfLoveAtAkronBibleChurch.