LAS CRUCES (BNM) - Each Tuesday for the past several weeks, a semi-truck filled with 40,000 pounds of fresh produce has pulled into the parking lot Heart for the World Church, Las Cruces. From there, 24 non-profit organizations, including nine Baptist Convention of New Mexico churches, have distributed boxes of fruits and vegetables to underserved members of their respective communities.
The weekly delivery is part of the USDA’s $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. It was established on April 17 from funds allocated to the governmental organization through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, USDA has allocated $3 billion toward a “Farmers to Families” initiative which, according to a July 10 USDA press release, partners with “national, regional and local suppliers, whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses” to purchase “fresh produce, dairy and meat products … suppliers will package these products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.”
Heart for the World’s distribution site operates under a partnership with SEND New Mexico, Calvary Baptist Church, Las Cruces; and Segovia's Distributing, Inc., El Paso, Texas. According to Dennis Garcia, an elder at Calvary and a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board, Calvary secured placement in the program through it’s 501(c)3 status.
Distribution began June 16th and will continue through August 31st. According to Garcia, Segovia’s may receive a contract extension from the USDA, allowing the program to continue through the end of October.
The nine BCNM churches involved in the program include Mayhill Baptist Church; Pinon Baptist Church; Trinity Baptist Church, High Rolls; First Baptist Church, Alamogordo; New Life Baptist Church, Alamogordo; Bethel Baptist Church, Deming; Calvary Baptist Church, Las Cruces; East Mesa Baptist Church, Las Cruces; and First Baptist Church, Lordsburg.
Garcia said that in addition to helping farmers and distributors through difficult financial situations, the program provides relief for families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Garcia, the program is more accessible than traditional food pantries like Road Runner Food Bank, which place “a lot of restrictions on who the clients are,” adding, “with this [program], we don’t have that same criteria so churches are able to help more people than they would if they were getting it from the food bank.”
Kyle Bueermann, pastor of First Baptist Church Alamogordo, said the program has provided his church opportunities to further its inreach and outreach ministries, pray for people, and “let folks know that we are a church that cares deeply for them and hopes to meet some needs during these very challenging times.” Tuesday, July 21, marked First Baptist’s sixth week participating in the program. According to Bueermann, during a typical week, the church receives between 25 and 20 boxes.
Mason Davis, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Deming, said the program has opened doors for Bethel to rekindle relationships with church members and guests. “People have really appreciated feeling thought of,” Davis said.
Bueermann, Davis and other pastors travel to Las Cruces each Tuesday to collect boxes for their respective communities in the parking lot of Heart for the World. For Davis, the trip takes about half a day round-trip but offers him the opportunity to spend time with his son. “Usually my little boy and I go pick up. They’ve got so many volunteers at the church where they have the meeting spot that it only takes fifteen minutes to load. When we get back on this end, we usually have volunteers to help unload and distribute.” Davis said.
According to Davis, because the produce comes directly from a distributor, it is “fresh and crisp,” adding, “People are amazed at how good it is. One week it may be fresh strawberries. There’s really nice lettuce in it, onions, apples, potatoes, carrots. Its really good stuff; People are really happy to get it.”
Garcia is currently working with Christ Church, Albuquerque, and Segovia's to coordinate a one-time or weekly delivery within the Navajo Nation.