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Arizona church ministers to isolated, needy community

Members of the community pick produce to take home at a free food distribution at First Baptist. Photo by Johanna Willett

PICACHO, Ariz. (BP) – On a Saturday in May, an abundance of bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, bread, eggs, sub sandwiches encased in plastic wrap and other grocery store cast-offs covered tables at First Baptist Church of Picacho. Another table held vanilla layer cakes and other desserts.

A sign out front alerted the community to the abundance inside. Free food boxes. All are welcome.

Darla Pepper, left, and Pastor Gordon Vernon, right, help set out food from Caring Ministries for a monthly food distribution at First Baptist Church of Picacho.

This takes place on the third Saturday of every month. Just 20 minutes after the doors open, the tables are almost depleted.

Gordon Vernon, the church’s pastor, estimates that 50 to 60 people come each month to load up boxes of food. Usually, they line up outside, waiting for volunteers to open the doors just a few minutes before 10 a.m.

First Baptist Church of Picacho is located about 40 minutes northwest of Tucson, just north of Picacho Peak. Vernon said the community around the church is isolated and in need.

The food comes from the Tucson-based nonprofit Caring Ministries, one of Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries’ community resource centers that provide food and other assistance to those in need.

Vernon has supported Caring Ministries since the ministry’s early days in the 1970s. More recently, Vernon’s previous church, Rincon Baptist Church in Tucson (now United Christian Fellowship), also operated as a food distribution site.

First Baptist, Picacho, sees a Sunday service attendance of around 35 or 40, and yet each month, about a dozen church volunteers show up to help with the food distribution, Vernon said.

“I see people get excited about doing something instead of just coming to church and sitting,” he said. “It’s a big boost to them, and it makes them feel good to help others.”

Kitty Ryan began attending the church about a year ago when she moved to the area and immediately began helping with the food distribution.

“It’s fantastic the turnout we get of people who appreciate and need the food,” she said. “Doing this kind of thing just makes me happy, and I really am changed by being here.”

Ryan has since invited others to get involved, and Vernon said a few people have begun attending the church after connecting at the food distribution.

First Baptist Church of Picacho hosts a free food distribution on the third Saturday of each month.

In addition to hosting the monthly food distribution, the church also gives $700 a month to support Caring Ministries. Vernon and his wife, Sonia, volunteer with the ministry every Friday, and another person from the church volunteers with the ministry on Mondays.

Vernon is also on the ministry’s board. On the Fridays he volunteers, he and his wife often bring back food for older church members who need a little extra help. 

Joshua Hanna, Caring Ministries director, estimated First Baptist Church of Picacho has donated about $25,000 to Caring Ministries in the last three years.

“God moves in these pastors who are involved with us and advocating for us,” Hanna said. “He leads people through us to their churches to become saved and baptized.”

For Vernon, partnering with Caring Ministries gives his church the opportunity to meet the needs in their community.

“Any way we can be on a ground level of helping people out, that’s what churches need to do,” Vernon said. “It’s important that people know we’re not just doing this for our own good, but we’re doing it out of service to the Lord, and He’s the one who provides everything we give away.”

Johanna Willett, a freelance writer living in Tucson, is a member of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson.

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  • Johanna Willett