In Southern California’s Orange County, where nearly half a million people are at risk of going hungry each month during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church is the largest food resource as the congregation seeks to follow the example of Jesus.
Since the pandemic began in March, the megachurch’s volunteers have distributed more than 2.4 million pounds of food at more than 300 grocery distribution events throughout Orange County, according to The Epoch Times.
“Saddleback has been feeding our community for over 10 years,” Saddleback’s communications minister, Ashley Eure, was quoted as saying. “When COVID hit, we scaled up our distribution to meet the rapidly increasing need. Every Southern California Saddleback campus has contributed to putting on food distributions and caring for the physical and spiritual needs families are facing right now.
“Pastor Rick has said that, as Christians, we are called to step into the places of pain. In a time when the world is scared and hurting, instead of running away from that, we’re going to run towards the pain and meet people where they are.”
Second Harvest Food Bank, Saddleback’s partner in the distribution, says that one in six children in Orange County is at risk of hunger. Those at risk also include seniors with fixed incomes, people with disabilities and the homeless, and the number could be more than 450,000.
The O.C. Food Bank is also a partner of the Saddleback Church in the initiative.
According to the church’s website, the food distribution will carry on in September in Anaheim, Corona, Irvine South, Lake Forest, Laguna Woods, Rancho Capistrano and San Clemente areas.
The church is inviting more volunteers to provide help to the community. Saddleback says it welcomes all, including those 8 years and older (those age 8 to 12 must come with a parent). “One hour served in the grocery distribution feeds a family for a week!”
“Just in July, we’ve had over 1 million pounds of food donations,” Adam Ermisch, who leads the Saddleback Church Food Pantry in Lake Forest, told the Times. “It takes about 100 volunteers to run the ministry on site. We even have church staff members furloughed that are here volunteering. Many other volunteers who have been laid off or facing challenges from other places are using their time to serve here as well.”
Earlier, Rana Muncy, Saddleback’s director of mission for the church’s regional campuses, told Los Angeles Times, “We’ve been giving away food in Orange County for 11 years, and so when COVID-19 hit and about 158 food pantries closed almost immediately in Orange County, we said, ‘You know what, as a church, we’ve got to really scale up.’”
The church has also served in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
Muncy added, “We are doing about seven times the amount of volume that we would normally do, so we went from serving 2,500 families a month to serving about 5,000 families a week. Just since March 9, we have given away 3 million pounds of groceries to people in need, and we help anybody who says they have a need. They have given it away from L.A. to San Diego.”
Churches across the country have stepped up their charity efforts. In Texas, Lakewood Church, led by Pastor Joel Osteen, 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, also began soon after the COVID lockdown began. The program had fed over 860,000 Americans through 70 hub locations by July-end. 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.