Two of Florida’s smallest churches make big impact
    October 28 2015 by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Witness

    Even small churches can make a big difference when it comes to meeting the needs of their communities.
    Through strategic partnerships and good community relations, two small Florida Baptist churches are able to give away thousands of pounds of food to people in need in their respective communities.
    Eastpoint is a town of about 2,300 people that occupies just more than seven square miles in Franklin County in the Panhandle. Nearly half of the people there are employed by the oyster industry, which has been in dire straits in recent years. As their main source of income flounders, so does their livelihood – 22.6 percent of Eastpoint residents live below the poverty level.
    First Baptist Church in Eastpoint is well-acquainted with the hardships of the people in its community. For the past 22 years, the church has been feeding those in need around them.
    “This is a very, very low-income community,” said Sonny Crosby, director of the feeding program at FBC Eastpoint.
    At the other end of the state, First Baptist Church in Islamorada, located in Monroe County, also is giving residents of its community a hot meal and inviting them to visit their food pantry every Tuesday.
    Islamorada, with roughly the same landmass as Eastpoint, has almost three times the population. Located in the upper Keys and known as the fishing capital of the world, the tourism industry is a driving force in the area. And while the number of Islamorada residents living below the poverty level is lower than Eastpoint’s –11.5 percent – there is still a demographic of people that is food insecure.
    FBC Islamorada Pastor Jonathan Elwing said that he’s seen a shift in the types of people requiring assistance lately.
    “Now we’re seeing less unemployed and homeless people and more families struggling and working two to three jobs to make ends meet in the service industry,” Elwing said.
    Both churches rely on partnerships to accomplish their ministry goals.
    Crosby at Eastpoint said the nonprofit Farm Share has helped the church by delivering between 7,000 and 8,000 pounds of food each month free of charge. Farm Share sorts, packages and delivers surplus food from area farmers that are unable to take the harvest to market. Through Farm Share, Eastpoint has been able to give out fresh fruit and vegetables.
    Crosby said they also buy food from America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend food bank in Tallahassee, adding canned and dry goods and meats to the variety of foods they can offer.
    Through these partnerships, FBC Eastpoint gives out an average of 40 pounds of food to 110-125 families each week.
    Almost as remarkable as the amount of food they distribute is the number of people who now are regularly attending the church.
    FBC Eastpoint has an average attendance of 50, up from 15, according to Pastor Doug Boucher in an email response. He credits the church’s revival to its work in the community.
    Crosby agreed, saying that the feeding ministry has “planted the seed for growth here at church.”
    In Islamorada, Elwing has partnered with area restaurants to provide a hot meal to families each week.
    One five-star restaurant in the area caters an entire meal for 100 people at no charge every month.
    Elwing said what started as a small outreach to the community 15 years ago has turned into a major means for not only meeting hunger needs in Islamorada, but spiritual needs as well.
    “We do a Bible study and a short gospel presentation every Tuesday night before we start the meal,” he said. “So many of the people who come have to work, and we recognize that we’re not going to get them back on Sunday.”
    Elwing said that by looking at themselves as more than just a food ministry, their regular Tuesday night guests consider FBC Islamorada their church home.
    “When I see them in the community, they introduce me as their pastor,” he said.
    But officially, Elwing said, the church only has 16 members, despite having 42 in attendance one Sunday last month.
    Elwing estimates that FBC Islamorada feeds 75-100 people a hot meal on Tuesday nights and gives out approximately 1,200 pounds of food from its food pantry each week.
    In addition to the feeding ministry, FBC Islamorada hosts the Florida Baptist Convention Mobile Dental Unit, partners with the Monroe County Health Department to provide free flu and pneumonia shots and makes sure people are getting the medical attention they need.
    “Baptist Health has a free health clinic in Tavernier, and we work hand in hand with them, making sure families that come through have access to it,” Elwing said, adding that sometimes that means picking up prescriptions or taking people to appointments.
    Elwing said small churches can fall into a trap of feeling like they are too small to do anything.
    “We’ve really worked hard to change the idea that our church falls into this window and we will always be the same,” he said. “It’s so not true! God will do whatever He wants to do. He can do anything.”
    But for Elwing and Crosby, while the growth is a welcome blessing, it’s not the reason they do what they do.
    “It’s more important to see souls in the Kingdom of Heaven than people in our building,” Elwing said.
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Kalil is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.)

    10/28/2015 12:46:32 PM by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Witness | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Florida, hunger ministry, small churches

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