By Jim Park, with Faith Hoyt
The largest and longest food distribution program was the daily feeding of the Israelites with manna for 40 years. Jesus fed the multitudes during His ministry on Earth. The church has a longstanding and firm Biblical foundation to become a channel of blessing to feed and minister to the needy, and the San Marcos church has taken up this call.
The beginning of Manna Mesa
After retiring from the military, Doug Rosendahl began a personal ministry to help feed hungry veterans and others in the San Marcos, Calif., area. Pastor Jim Park, Pacific Union personal ministries volunteer coordinator, joined with him to begin a weekly food distribution to the community starting in January 2019.
Doug worked tirelessly to get the food, and Jim focused on ministering to the people who came. Every week, Doug and his team would pick up food from local food stores (this is called “fresh rescue”) in addition to advocating for large quantities of food to be delivered from the San Diego and North County Food Banks.
Within four months, nearly 100 people were coming to the Manna Mesa food bank on a weekly basis. Every week new aspects were added to the ministry. Volunteers started to help, wearing aprons printed with the logo.
After several months, Manna Mesa began using a database program called Oasis to keep track of people who were getting food. Each person would fill out an information sheet, get their picture taken, and then be issued a card, which would be scanned when they came to pick up food.
In June 2019, this database was used to call the parents of the children who were coming to the food bank, inviting them to Vacation Bible School. Thirty children from the community came as a result of this effort, demonstrating the great potential of the food distribution program to not only feed the hungry but to minister to their souls as well.
Jossy Broden, who was the director of the Vacation Bible School, is now also serving as director of Volunteer Services, along with her husband Adavid, to provide leadership to the program.
Jesus told His disciples that He would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
With so many good interests being generated by Manna Mesa, effective nets are being developed to bring people into the church.
One such comprehensive follow-up (pre-COVID) was initiated and run by San Marcos church Pastor Basil Bell, along with Pastors Cruz and Acevedo. They received the printouts from Oasis and made a database of Hispanic names, who were called and enlisted in Bible studies. A two-week evangelistic campaign reaped the interests and others are currently being followed up.
One of the important principles of a good ministry program is its reproducibility. The Valley Center church, which is in a nearby town, heard about the program and came to observe the San Marcos church food distribution, volunteering to get a feel for the ministry. They began their own successful food distribution modeled after what they had learned. Because of the tons of food San Marcos church gets every week, it is able to supply food for their program until they are able to get enough on their own.
Super pantry status
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, a drive-through service is provided and the people stay in their cars in order to maintain social distance. Currently, every Tuesday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., the program serves 270 cars a week and approximately 400 families (some of the vehicles pick up for more than one household). Since there is limited parking, and to avoid increased traffic, each car is given a time to come to the church.
Feeding San Diego—a member of Feeding America, the premier non-profit Food Distribution organization in the nation—offered financial assistance to the 500 organizations it services in San Diego county. San Marcos church was one of 35 chosen to receive a $20,000 grant to build up the infrastructure its ministry. Recently they received another $15,000 to continue to feed the needy on Tuesday, Sabbath, and Sunday afternoons.
The greatest advantage of a weekly food distribution program is the weekly contact with the people. Any ministry where you can mingle with the people on an ongoing basis has a distinct advantage over a “one-shot” program where your ability to properly meet and minister to the individuals who come is limited.
With over 1,000 names from the community in its database, the church is now planning on how to best follow up the positive response to their feeding program. There are plans to hand out Discover Bible lessons to those who are interested, beginning with the 20 non-Adventist volunteers who come and help on a weekly basis and then expanding to those who visit the food bank.
Although the pandemic prevents going door-to-door, there are still many opportunities for a personal ministry with those who come the church campus every week, not only giving them the food which perishes but “the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die” (John 6:50, NIV).
Like a mustard seed, Manna Mesa began small, but through weekly prayer and hard work, it has grown into a strong ministry. Lay participation and leadership have been key to its ongoing success, and the team is committed to making their weekly food distribution a dynamic means to feed both the physical and soul hunger of their community.