HOUSTON — Lakewood Church, led by Pastor Joel Osteen, has partnered with World Vision, Houston-area churches and local nonprofits to distribute over 12,000 boxes of fresh food, provided by farmers facing financial hardship during the pandemic, to the hungry.
The partnership, part of the Fresh Food Box Program, began soon after COVID shutdowns began. The program has fed over 860,000 Americans through 70 hub locations. Unlike some food drives, Fresh Food Box gives recipients fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products supplied by farmers who otherwise could not sell their goods due to the economic impact of COVID-19.
“World Vision was in Houston for two years helping rebuild after Hurricane Harvey,” Reed Slattery, national director of World Vision U.S. programs, told The Christian Post. “We noticed how in need the area was. During the pandemic, we know folks aren’t working and food is one of the biggest needs, so we come alongside them and make sure families here have dinner.”
At the Houston hub, food is supplied by American farmers and shipped by a semi-truck to Lakewood Church twice per week. Lakewood Church then disperses the food to smaller Houston-area churches and nonprofits called PODS (Points of Distribution Services), according to Slattery.
Food boxes are supplied for free to anyone in need, as the program will remain in “Phase Two” until the end of August. Slattery said he hopes the program continues into a third phase, which could proceed through October, so long as challenges do not escalate.
“I think one of the biggest challenges with the program nationwide is simply capacity,” he said. “Many churches and facilities don’t have the refrigerators or space to store this fresh food. Fortunately, Lakewood has the infrastructure and ability to store food for this scale and volume.”
Paul Osteen, associate pastor of Lakewood Church, said he and his church were glad to step in and fulfill the need. World Vision and Lakewood Church have been working together on various projects for over 12 years, according to Osteen.
A "convoy of hope built on a long-term relationship" between the church and organization was how Osteen described the partnership with World Vision. He said it brought him joy to see so much collaboration to help the community.
“There’s islands of food shortages all over the United States and they’re exacerbated by natural disasters and now the pandemic,” Osteen told CP. “As followers of Jesus, we must have our hearts open for those who are hungry and in need. We’re doing everything we can as individuals and the Body of Christ.”
In addition to working with local churches, food pantries are also a part of the collaborative effort to fight hunger in the Houston area. Houston’s food bank, among the largest in the country, receives support from the program and Lakewood Church throughout the year.
Smaller nonprofits are involved as well, including The Clear Lake Food Pantry in Clear Lake City, just outside of Houston. The nonprofit feeds and prays for over 450 families in the area.
“Since the start of COVID-19, the need for help has continued to grow,” Nathan Knight of The Clear Lake Food Pantry told CP. “We are 100% volunteer and donor driven, so we would not be able to help without our partners. But to God be the glory for the great things He has done.”
According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project, over 1 million people are food insecure in the counties served by the Houston Food Bank, which amounts to 14.2% of the entire area’s population. The data reflects food insecurity levels from 2018, which suggests the number could be higher due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has forced millions in the U.S. to become unemployed.
Pastor Osteen said that the Bible calls on Christians to help others, referencing Matthew 25. The passage suggests that "if you see a brother in need and ignore, you do not have the love of God in you."
“There’s 2,300 verses about helping widows, the hungry and the poor,” he said. “If you represent Jesus, you can’t just preach through words; you have to preach with your actions. When World Vision came to us, it fit what we were already doing, and what we’re doing is God-inspired.”