Within what has long been called the 7th Ward community in Livingston Parish sits Hebron Baptist Church, established more than 180 years ago to minister to the local community. From the very beginning, the church has been about serving the spiritual and physical needs of the community, and that call to help others becomes quite clear when you visit one of their monthly food distributions.
As a member agency of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, staff and volunteers from the church gather one Wednesday a month to distribute food to local qualified clients via an assembly line of cars. Barbara Stevenson, Food Pantry Administrator, recalls the height of seeing so many families in need back during the flood of 2016.
“For the 2016 flood, the center became a food distribution location in coordination with the Food Bank to get food to people who were stranded,” Stevenson stated. “The church did not flood. It became an island of service. They had people here that were airlifted; people rescued from army trucks; and many had escaped their homes and come here to the church for refuge. Working with the Food Bank during that time was a beautiful relationship.”
Flash forward to early 2020 and the pantry had to suspend operations due to COVID-19.
Initially during COVID, we had to stop operating because the people that work here are elderly, immune suppressed, and in some cases extremely vulnerable,” she said. “The National Guard was able to come in and handle distributions during COVID to continue to get food to the area. They are so efficient at the Food Bank in getting the food to the people who need it.”
Later as COVID began to settle down, the pantry was able to reopen and now they are back to serving their clients once a month in conjunction with Food Bank support and resources.
“The need is so great. COVID has burdened everyone, and it has decreased the stability of so many,” she said. “People lost loved ones, and many were affected by that personally. That affects someone’s stability and any one of us can be just a step away from being in need.”
Stevenson noted that the work of volunteers really makes such a difference when it comes to operating a food pantry. She says it is like a community of neighbors coming together and that even some of their food clients give of their time to make it all work.
“Ronnie and Tandy really help us. They serve more than they receive,” Stevenson said “If I need help getting things done and I call them, they say they are on their way. When your family sees you caring for your brother or sister in need, it impacts so many lives we cannot even count. We do not know how that is going to impact further generations and the desire to give back like Ronnie and Tandy do. They give back in a way they can.
“When you give, you are blessing others in a way you would never understand unless you were walking in their shoes,” she added. “And we cannot fully understand what that is like. But we know we are touching future generations.”