Five years ago our church experienced a series of break-ins. After the third break-in, we noticed that the individuals were only targeting the different refrigerators we have in the church and stealing food. None of our equipment had been touched.
This realization quickly calmed our rising frustration. Instead of calling the police, two of our church members, Linda Smith and Julie Wolfe, and I decided we would start a small food pantry to help meet an obvious need. Our driving passion was “If people would risk going to jail to get something to eat, then we can help them not land in jail by providing them some food. That “small” food pantry, now known as the Portland Open Bible Community Food Pantry, is now feeding more than 1,800 people per month.
If you have paid attention to the news, you know that Portland, Oregon, where our church is located, is known for its difficulties dealing with homelessness. Driving up and down the streets of our city, one cannot escape the proliferation of tents and tons of trash. At times on our church property you can find used needles, feces, couches, mattresses, and multiple other items. It’s very challenging.
The frustration diminishes when you hear the stories, sit with the families, and see the pain. I lived all my life sheltered from a world I didn’t know existed. The pantry has given me full access to a different world where the mentally ill live with their children on the streets. In that same world many families with a mom and a dad lost their apartments because they could not make the rent and received an eviction notice that keeps them from being able to rent another apartment. It’s a world where families end up living in their cars or trucks because a diagnosis was given to a parent who then lost his or her job. The stories are endless and their sadness tremendous.
Our driving passion was “If people would risk going to jail to get something to eat, then we can help them not land in jail by providing them some food.
So we provide food to them all. Knowing that they can get food every two weeks does wonders for people. In the past, pantries gave out only canned foods. At the Portland Open Bible Community Food Bank, we are thankful for our local farmers, the Oregon Food Bank, and grocery stores who have partnered with pantries like ours to donate the best foods you can imagine. This ensures that the food people are receiving is filled with nutrition.
I have been asked, “How is what you’re doing leading people to Christ?”
It’s a question that in the beginning used to set me off balance. When we started, our objective was to help support those in our community who are going through difficult times. Whether Christian or Muslim, black or white, Russian or Asian, they come on our campus and are grateful for the help. My favorite scripture for the pantry is Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.” It’s amazing how people respond when you are kind to them. I believe God has placed the poor among us as an opportunity to grow the fruit of the Spirit in us all.
By Betty Brown
Born in San Jose, Costa Rica, Betty Brown came to the U.S. at age 10. She has a B.A. in psychology and a B.S. in nursing. Having worked in nursing for most of her career, Betty left her position as Chief Operations Officer at South Tabor Family Physicians five years ago to become the Executive Director of the Portland Open Bible Community Food Pantry. She and her husband, Jim Brown, pastor of Open Bible Church of Portland, have three grown children and two grandchildren.
Betty was recently featured in a video telling her experience with the food pantry. If you would like to view it, click here.