Rock Creek Church in Little Rock broke ground on a new 11,000-square-foot food bank center.
Currently, the Baptist congregation provides groceries to more than 300 families each month, while distributing backpacks filled with food each week to 1,600 children.
It needs more space to store food and serve more hungry people, Pastor Mark Evans said.
“We take very seriously that Jesus tells us to feed the hungry,” he said.
The goal is to have it completed by April.
The building will cost about $2 million. Evans said his congregants give generously.
“We’re off to a great start, and I really think we’re going to be able to finish this building debt-free,” he said.
At Rock Creek, this type of ministry has deep roots.
“One of the things we’ve done since we started the church [in 1995] was to meet the real physical needs that people have here in Central Arkansas. The need for food, food insecurity has just been … a constant problem and it’s been a growing problem for the last 28 years,” he said.
In 2006, when the congregation was building its new campus on 40 acres west of Interstate 430, it built its care center, which houses the food pantry, before building its worship center, Evans said.
“I wanted to make a statement to our church that ministry is more important than finding a nice place to hang out,” he said. “Part of our church’s DNA is to respond to people’s real needs, ultimately to introduce them to Jesus.”
The new building will be dedicated entirely to the food outreach, essentially doubling the ministry’s space.
“There will be shelves to store stable food. There will be freezers and refrigerators for storing meat and produce and things like that,” said Nick Burt, the congregation’s executive director of communications.
Right now, “We’re out of space,” he said.
With the current building, “There are always more people who need food than we can serve. And we’ve had offers to get more food than we can actually safely store. So it kind of worked out,” he said.
The church seeks to address food insecurity for families, with a special emphasis on children.
“Through Feed Arkansas Kids, we give them seven meals plus snacks on the weekends,” Evans said. “Our commitment to one child is that if we start feeding you in August, we will feed you every weekend of the year,” he said.
At the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the government sent millions of Americans three rounds of Economic Impact Payments.
This funding was temporary. The needs, Evans said, are long-lasting.
“The number of families contacting us every week in need of food, that number has increased by about 25% in the last year,” he said.
The state’s unemployment rate may be 2.9 percent as of September, but many people are really struggling, he said.
“I think the economy is doing well for a lot of us who have good jobs, but for people who are struggling paycheck to paycheck or constantly trying to find a job – that’s what’s having a really tough time,” he said .
Inflation is also eating away at the dollar’s purchasing power, he said.
“The price of food has skyrocketed,” he said.
The congregation buys some of the supplies from the Arkansas Food Bank or elsewhere, so it has seen costs jump. Luckily, Walmart and Kroger are donating many of the items.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as “food stamps,” provides some safety net, but not enough to get by, he said.
“This program, while a great help, is just a help at best. You certainly can’t feed a family on the food stamp program for a month. At all. Not even close,” he said.
Echoing Jesus’ words recorded in Mark 14:7, Evans said, “We will always have people in poverty.”
“The poor will always be with us, and so we have an eternal mandate – while we are on the planet – to serve them, care for them and provide for them,” he said.