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Florida Baptist catalyst addresses growing hunger crisis

Florida Baptist Convention central region catalyst Jeffery Singletary prays with a Ponciana, Fla., resident during a USDA Farmers to Families food giveaway. Submitted photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) — Rising food insecurity in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic is no surprise to Jeffery Singletary. On his latest Feeding the Five Thousand Crusade to the Caribbean, the Florida Baptist leader sensed the hunger he’s fought there since 2017 was headed to the U.S.

“The Lord had just laid on my heart about 2020,” said Singletary, Florida Baptist Convention central region catalyst. “Every December, I try to just spend most of December trying to hear the voice of God and what the ensuing year would be like, and get a vision plan for that year. … I didn’t know about the pandemic, but just the sense that the previous year had been a prestaging for what was coming, that the Feeding of the Five Thousand was a foreshadowing of what was coming to America.

“I’ve said that for the last two years, that this was coming. I didn’t know the context of this, but it was in my spirit that we’re on the precipice of a national crisis.”

More than 50 million Americans are expected to go hungry this year amid the pandemic, National Geographic reported Dec. 7, based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the nonprofit Feeding America. The predicted 50.4 million for 2020 is up from 35.2 million in 2019, and includes 17 million children. A 2020 nationwide food insecurity rate of 16 percent is anticipated to be 23 percent among children, according to National Geographic.

As Southern Baptist churches across the nation work with the USDA and various nonprofit groups to address hunger, Singletary has used his contacts through the Florida Baptist Convention, the Huddle Touch sports ministry he founded, and the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network he leads to mobilize help for the needy across Florida.

Cars line up for USDA food boxes at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla. Submitted photo

When the pandemic began in March, Singletary said he was already praying for a plan. He asked the Lord to open opportunities for food distribution across the state.

Florida government leaders first contacted the Florida Baptist Convention in March to distribute snack boxes to Baptist churches across Florida. Later that month, Singletary received word that a Georgia philanthropist was donating $3 million to help farmers mobilize their goods, as regular commercial avenues were stymied by the pandemic. Singletary initially agreed to distribute 2,000 food boxes a day in central Florida, but he said the scope changed within weeks as the program morphed into the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program.

Singletary mobilized a network of 2,800 food distribution sites among Florida Baptist churches, 2,000 sites through the Huddle Touch network and others through the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network. Through Farmers to Families, Singletary helped distribute 50 to 75 trucks full of food a week, distributing $28 million worth of food across Florida within six months, from Pensacola to Key West.

“I just began to reach out to the church of Jesus Christ,” Singletary said, and the food distribution program energized congregations that were suffering during the pandemic’s shutdown. “From Pensacola to the Key West, we began to see an incredible movement of churches being at the apex of their community. If you would come to their campus, you would see (food distribution) lines for hours. People coming, and churches loving on their neighbors, ministering to them.”

Central Hispanic Church in Kissimmee, Fla., is among thousands of churches that have helped distribute USDA Farmers to Families food boxes through a distribution network Jeffery Singletary said he spearheaded in Florida. Submitted photo

More than 8.5 million food boxes have been distributed in Florida alone, and another 1.5 million in Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Virginia and the Virgin Islands, Singletary said of the distribution network he helped mobilize from Florida. Churches have recorded between 1,500 and 2,000 decisions for Christ in the process.

The USDA Famers to Families program has distributed nearly 127 million food boxes according to the program’s website.

“It’s been a tremendous blessing to pastors and to the churches that have been able to serve their community in ways that had not been open,” Singletary said. “This hunger crisis is different than anything we’ve experienced before in my lifetime.

“Normally when we have food giveaways, the predictable are in the lines. These lines have been unpredictable. People today are hurting who’ve never hurt before. People today who are in lines have never been in line before, from Lexus to Mercedes (drivers), you name it. … It spans the gamut, of the stories people in line crying … that they have to be here.”