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Local church gives out 5,000 meals
Hopewell Baptist Church members Lisa Phillips, left, and Jackie Martin prepare plates of food Sunday for the residents of Brentwood Apartments . - photo by Tom Reed

One Gainesville church set out to be a part of a miracle on Sunday afternoon. Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville fed more than 5,000 people after their morning church service.

Dwight Joy, the church’s mission pastor, said the idea was inspired by a story in the Bible in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish.

He said the story appears in the Bible four times, so it must be important.

Joy said one of the most interesting parts of the story is that the disciples were the ones passing out the meal.

"So what is neat about that, is that the disciples were able to be part of the miracle," Joy said.

"(Jesus) didn’t just supernaturally make to-go plates fall into everybody’s lap. The scripture says that as he broke (the bread) and gave it to the disciples and it kept going."

Last year, the church held a similar mission, but only reached a few hundred people through homeless shelters in Atlanta.

"We just felt like we were supposed to do more. So we planned to feed 5,000. Then as we got to counting (people) for it, we were wondering if we were going to have enough," Joy said.

He said it’s harder than it seems to find so many people without holding one big event.

So this year, the church spread out its efforts to reach the people.

After the regular Sunday service more than 800 members, children and guests split up into teams and went out in separate directions.

Some teams went back to the Atlanta homeless shelters, some went to the local fire departments, some sought out the homeless while still others went door to door at local neighborhoods and apartments.

The rainy weather didn’t deter the church members nor the guests from their mission.

By the end of the day, the group had exceeded its goal by 200 people.

"We had a lot of those divine encounters where people said ‘We didn’t know what we were going to eat today,’" Joy said.

Those divine encounters served as a valuable reminder for the church members.

Some of the groups were surprised to find hungry people in unexpected places, like middle-class neighborhoods.

"But we would get testimonies of people saying ‘I haven’t eaten since yesterday. Thank you, I didn’t know how I was going to eat today,’" Joy said. "It was a reminder that it was all around. It’s not just the homeless in Atlanta. It’s not just the people under the bridge. People are in need all over."

Seira Couch was a co-leader of a team that passed out meals to residents of Norwood Apartments in Gainesville.

Couch said she was glad to be able to help people on a more local level.

"We’re a local church in Gainesville, so this was a great opportunity for our members to serve the community locally," Couch said. "It’s a little more close to home. It was God working in the town instead of God working elsewhere."

She brought her four young children along for the mission. She said it was a great learning experience for them and showed them how they could give back and share the gospel.

She said the timing of the mission felt right. Not only was it an example of the Christmas spirit, but it provided the church with an opportunity to show love in light of the tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school just two days earlier.

"People need to know that God loves them," Couch said, "Especially with all the craziness that goes on in this world."

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