A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded food distribution program, which was established during the Coronavirus pandemic, is helping Oklahoma Baptist churches meet needs and advance the Gospel.

The USDA program Farmers to Families has committed to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers of all sizes. The products are packaged into family-sized boxes, then transported to churches, food banks and other non-profits serving communities in need without cost to the distributor or the consumer.

According to Rusty Gunn, who is spearheading the program’s church-based initiatives in the state, about 57 Oklahoma churches have participated in the distribution of food and dairy products. About one third of those churches are Oklahoma Baptists.

“We were contacted by a program representative and asked if we would serve as a hub in our area for distribution. So that meant we would distribute in our community but we would also seek out and help coordinate with other churches and organizations to distribute,” said Gunn, pastor of Sand Springs, Church that Matters.

“In the last three weeks we have resourced 57 churches in Oklahoma with semi-loads of produce and milk. We have distributed from our parking lot alone a million and a half pounds of produce and over 500,000 gallons of milk the last 13 weeks.”

Churches that participate in the program are using this opportunity to also share the Gospel with people as they are meeting needs. “We baptized six people two weeks ago that were a direct result of conversations and connections made through this and next Sunday we will baptize quite a few more, about 10 that are a result of this as well,” Gunn reported.

Another congregation that has participated in the distribution program is Lawton, First. Mike Keahbone, who became Lawton, First’s pastor a month ago, said the program has been a great launch to a new season of ministry for the church. “I was in view of a call Sunday and the very next Friday, I get a call from Rusty Gunn asking if I could help distribute 4,500 gallons of milk. I said, ‘I just became the pastor of First Baptist Lawton, let me see.’”

A truckload of milk to Lawton, First’s parking lot, and nearly 50 church volunteers showed up to distribute it within two hours the next morning.

“One of the things I talked about in my ‘view of a call’ sermon was I wanted us to be engaged in our community. I wanted us to have a presence not a reputation,” Keahbone recalled. “I said we are going to ask the Lord to give us opportunities to love on Lawton.”

Keahbone explained that Lawton, First is intentional in sharing the Gospel with people who come to the church’s distribution point.

“One of our pastors, Tony Christie, is an evangelist,” Keahbone said. “That’s what he does during the distribution times; he shares the Gospel. He’s great at meeting people, handing out tracts and relating to people. Everyone who has come through has had some kind of contact with the Gospel. We have had people come to the church as a result of the distribution.”

Keahbone believes the food distribution program has benefited the church in the past few weeks they have participated in it. It has connected the church to the community, and they have plans to continue doing the work. “We will do it as long as they will let us,” he said.

Contact Rusty Gunn at rusty@churchthatmatters.com for more information about how churches can be involved in the Farmers to Families distribution program.