Free food, no strings attached

Mountain View Church gives away 140,000 meals and fresh produce

Over the course of nine weeks, Mountain View Church in Fresno gave away 140,000 meals. Church volunteers promoted the free meal with signs along Fowler Avenue. Photo Mountain View Church
USMB congregations found creative ways to assist individuals and families in their churches and communities as states issued stay-at-home orders and businesses closed in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. In some cases, churches revamped existing ministries to meet the abundance of needs and in other situations initiated new programs to minister to those in crisis. Here is one example.  

Estelle hadn’t been out of her house in weeks when she got in her car and headed to the nearby drive-thru pharmacy. There the almost 80-year-old picked up her medication but no food, even though she was down to her last can of soup. She was avoiding the market for fear of catching COVID-19.

When Estelle spotted people waving posters advertising “Free food” and “Jesus loves you” by the Mountain View Church (MVC) sign on Fowler Avenue in Fresno, Calif., she decided to turn down the church’s long, flag-lined driveway.

What she encountered that night was one of MVC’s 34 drive-thru food distributions in response to COVID-19. On this weeknight she received a much-needed meal, produce and an expression of Jesus’ love.

MVC’s monthly food giveaway—known locally as Food and Clothing—has been in operation for more than a decade. But as the coronavirus pandemic forced thousands into unemployment and just as many elderly into quarantine, Fred Leonard, MVC’s lead pastor, knew that the church would have to step up its food distributions exponentially.

This decision led to new, regular weekday meal distributions and weekly Saturday grocery distributions. From March 29 to the end of May, the church gave away 140,000 meals.

“It has been an awesome blessing to be able to share a smile and food with people who really need it,” Leonard says. “We’ve watched in awe as God continually provided for these distributions.”

When MVC ramped up its food giveaway efforts, Leonard says he didn’t know how the food would be paid for or acquired.

“But we knew it’s what God wanted, and every week God provided finances and food, like manna from heaven,” he says with a smile.

Leonard, who was at almost all of the food distributions, says many people were surprised that there were no requirements to receive the free food.

“So many people tried to show me ID or thought they could only receive food for the people who were physically in their cars during the distribution,” he says. “They were shocked to know we just wanted to bless them and meet their needs.”

Another way MVC shared the love of Jesus was through its Pound of Love deliveries. Given that so many people were unable to leave their homes because of their health status, MVC staff and volunteers delivered food right to the front doors of many residents across Fresno County.

Why go to the trouble and hard work of 34 food distributions and just as many Pound of Love food deliveries?

“We just want people to know that God loves them,” Leonard says.

And Estelle, who found a safe place where she could comfortably find food for her pantry as well as for her soul, felt compelled to reach out to Leonard and express her thanks.

“Everyone was so friendly. I appreciate your kindness,” she said. “Thank you from my heart.”


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