Free groceries aren't easy to come by in lower Park Heights, but yesterday about 200 households in that Northwest Baltimore area received brown paper bags filled with bread, canned vegetables, rice and other goodies -- and they were not alone.
Hundreds of families in the city, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County were greeted with food, hugs and prayers as 10 area churches joined together to minister to poor neighborhoods with food and a message of hope.
"We need to let people know that there's a loving God that cares for them," said the Rev. John Krach, pastor of South Baltimore's Church on the Rock, which sponsored the third annual Feed the 5,000 Day.
"We have so much, and we know people who really need it don't come and get it, so we go out to where they are. We'll be praying for the sick, for those with drug and alcohol problems, and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ," he said.
About 10 a.m. yesterday, nearly 200 people gathered at the nondenominational Christian church on the corner of Hanover Street and Patapsco Avenue to sing songs, pray and worship before loading 1,100 bags of groceries into cars and trucks and heading to Cherry Hill, South Baltimore, Morrell Park, Towson, Severn and Glen Burnie.
In their door-to-door ministry in Northwest Baltimore,they encountered women such as Grace Straughter, who said she is addicted to alcohol and wanted help, and Shelia Bailey, who asked church members to pray that she might find a job and another place to live.
Charlene Foote was baby-sitting eight children in her Woodland Avenue home when she came to the door to get two bags of groceries from members of Agape Fellowship A.M.E. Church. She said she was thankful to see a church providing for community needs.
"Ain't no church around here where you can go to and get food," she said, adding that a local food bank was needed. "A lot of the children go hungry."
Although this was the third year that the Church on the Rock has sponsored Feed the 5,000 Day -- named from a biblical passage that describes Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread -- it was the first time the church had invited other congregations to help spread their food-and-gospel ministry throughout the area.
Five of the churches -- Church on the Rock, Agape Fellowship, Emmanuel World Outreach in Curtis Bay, Evangelical Bible Church in Morrell Park and Church of the Nazarene in Brooklyn -- are in Baltimore. The Anne Arundel County churches were: Calvary Chapel and Severn Covenant Church in Severn, the Abundant Life Church in Glen Burnie and New Covenant Church in Arnold. In Baltimore County, Rock Church in Towson was involved.
The donated food came from several food pantries in Baltimore and throughout the state. The 6-year-old Church on the Rock also operates a food pantry in the church basement, and some of the participating congregations collected and donated additional food for yesterday's event.
The Rev. Eleanor Bryant, pastor of Agape Fellowship on Reisterstown Road, said her church was trying to have a strong impact in the drug-infested neighborhoods that surround it.
"We're always looking for a way to say 'I love you' to our community," Ms. Bryant said.
Pastor Tom Schwind of Calvary Chapel said that by going into the streets, churches were simply assuming their responsibility.
"The great commission was not given to city government; it was given to the church," said the pastor, referring to Christ's command to go into all nations and make disciples. "In the word of God it is very clear that the needy, the poor, the helpless, and the homeless is the responsibility of the church."