Most Fridays mornings, New Vision Community Church is bustling with activity. The parking lots are full, people are swarming in and out, and volunteers are hustling. This isn’t your regular church service activity. No, these are the days that New Vision Community Church provides free groceries to the elderly known as their Silver Star Program. It is one of their many on-going ministries and my girls and I were happy and proud to be part of it all.
This is not a haphazard operation. On the contrary, it is a well oiled machine. Every week, the church and its volunteers prepare to host 150 to 300 people and provide them with free groceries. Early in the week, Pastora Lucy, as she is famously known in Laredo (and who also happens to be my mom), makes an effort to ensure that there is enough inventory of food products, to include baked good and fresh fruits and/or vegetables when available, to accommodate those that will be collecting their “mandado” on Friday. If the inventory is insufficient, a volunteer driver and/or my dad, the senior pastor, will pick up donated goods from various places around Laredo and have it delivered to the church so other volunteers can package it into grocery bags. Things like beans and rice are usually donated to the church in bulk so those must be packaged by volunteers in their own little bags first and be ready to be placed in grocery bags.
There are a lot of moving parts and each part has a designated set of volunteers that ensures their part is functioning and ready. For example, a husband and wife team are responsible for the dry goods and packaging individual bags so that the elderly will receive a wide variety of product. They faithfully come every week and pack paper bags with things like rice, pastas, beans, chips, salad dressings, honey, bottled drinks, and yes, even chocolate or some other type of candy.
The day of the event, everyone is in place. The church secretary has a registration table set up where each person will present their ID and she will double check that they were indeed slated to pick up that week. This is done to prevent fraud and to make sure that every “grandma” and “grandpa,” as my daughters like to call them, will get their share for the month. The kitchen staff has coffee and pastries available for the elderly to enjoy before picking up their goods and a faithful servant leads worship and shares the gospel in the sanctuary for those that want to participate. The pastors will be walking around making sure everything is running smoothly, greeting the visitors, and pitching in whenever and wherever they see a need. In the back of the church, volunteers are moving bags and handing them out to the elderly as they show up. If a person is to weak to walk, they are kindly instructed to park, and a runner will gather their groceries for them.
The same process is repeated week after week and it has happened many times where the pastors did not have enough inventory to meet the demand for Fridays, but this will rarely unsettle them. They do what they can, scrape from every corner of the church, trust in God and patiently wait for His provision. What they won’t do is cancel it. And God has been faithful; the elderly have received their “mandado” every Friday that the church has scheduled it since the beginning of this ministry in 2008. On several occasions when there has been a shortage, a major food donation arrives at New Vision the day before and sometimes even that same morning. The pastors and their volunteers are used to operating in this uncertainty. Personally, I would be pulling my hair out.
I have been at the church many times in the past when I have visited my parents, , but since usually I am just vacationing, I had not experienced the full scope of work and preparation that goes into something like this. This time my daughters and I packed grocery bags, sorted and repacked bulk goods, moved inventory from one room to the other, and interacted with the sweet people that came to collect their “mandado.” I think I might have lost a few pounds that week just because of the physical aspect of the work. I was moved by the hard work of the volunteers and their faithfulness to service. And I was able to better understand my parents and the amount of logistical planning that goes into running this ministry and the many others that are part of New Vision Community Church. They have a large load on their shoulders. The Silver Star Programs runs in addition to normal church services on Sundays, Bible studies, prayer sessions, counseling and then its other non-traditional ministries.
Providing free groceries to about 1000 people each month (and this doesn’t include the free groceries that are given to poor people in the outskirts of Laredo) is not a cheap enterprise. How can the church afford this? The church has only about 100 members and most are people with limited means. The church tithings barely cover the church’s electric bill. So how is that possible? First and foremost, it is the strong faith of the church leadership and volunteers that God will come through. The second, is hard work. I could barely keep up with the people that worked along side me. Truly, they put me to shame and I always considered myself a hard worker (yeah, little did I know). Thirdly, the church through God’s grace has built an extraordinary relationship with organizations, companies, and individuals that provide donations to make some of these ministries happen. Lastly, the church operates outside of the box. They fund many of their ministries by running a non-profit café, a non-profit grocery store, and a working ranch.
My little girls will not understand anything that has to do with logistics nor appreciate all the moving pieces of these ministries. They will probably mostly remember the silly hats they had to wear when packaging food and having to work, “for hours, and hours without end,” as my five-year-old liked to complain (In full disclosure she really only worked about 10 minutes at a time, but if you asked her, she would have you believe she had been doing that for days.) But I do hope and pray that they took away that we serve, because we serve the King. That we do this out of love and we love, because God first loved us. I pray that they will cherish the smiles of those that we served. And I hope that they remember all the faces of the wonderful volunteers who not only served the elderly, and the poor, but also took the time to serve my two young daughters (sometimes against my pleas and wishes).
I leave you with the verse that was the genesis for the elderly ministry. It was the verse that drove my parents to move forward with this ambitious endeavor that is now in its ninth year.
Leviticus 19:32, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (ESV version)