The sudden arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has left our communities shellshocked. Church and ministry leaders are racing to adapt, learning how to lead well in an erratic socio-economic crisis. Nevertheless, some pastors have found themselves busier than ever.
Shortly after California governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide shelter-in-place order, Pastor Jim Franklin and his staff at Cornerstone Church launched the COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution in Fresno. This unique initiative is offered through Cornerstone Community Care, a nonprofit ministry born out of the church more than 25 years ago. “When we saw the crisis that was happening from COVID-19, we knew we had to really gear up and begin the food distribution in a massive way,” says Pastor Franklin.
On April 4, 2020, volunteers gathered downtown for the first of many food distributions to support those affected by COVID-19. “A whole different model had to be created,” says Pastor Franklin, “different from food distributions in the past, where people could walk up in lines and we could hand them the food. Now, it had to be a drive-thru.” Cornerstone held the event next door to the church, but never anticipated the level of response they’d receive. “We backed up traffic. We had 1,000 cars that were weaving in and out.” In addition to the new method for distributing meals, Pastor Franklin says those receiving the food changed as well. “The difference in these lines, as compared to some of our past distributions, is you see people in cars that look like they need to be held together with bailing wire — and then you’ll see a car with a dealer’s tag,” he explains. “These are people that suddenly just don’t have work. They are so grateful that the church was there to reach out and help them.”
The following weekend, Cornerstone moved the outreach event to the Fresno fairgrounds to avoid causing more traffic, but the ministry continued to adjust to meet the shifting needs of their city. “There were other churches and entities here within Fresno proper that were now gearing up and helping to meet the need, but what wasn’t being met were the rural communities surrounding our city.” Eventually, Cornerstone began distributing meals to the smaller farming communities around Fresno. “Madera, Kerman, Orange Cove,” Pastor Franklin explains. “A lot of farmers are really hurting and thus their workers are hurting, so we really felt a calling to go where the need was the greatest and wasn’t being met.”
Since launching the COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution, Pastor Franklin estimates they have distributed half a million meals. “I am busier now than I have been, in all honesty,” he says. “We’ve had people lined up since four o’clock in the morning to be able to get the food, which shows the great need.” This month, Cornerstone even sent a semi-truck load of food all the way to New Jersey, an area especially hard-hit by the coronavirus. “People are hungry right now, so there’s a real physical need. But more importantly, especially during a shelter-in-place time, people need hope. They need to know that they’re not alone, and who better than the church to be able to offer that.”
Pastor Franklin says there is light at the end of the tunnel as some businesses are gradually beginning to reopen in Fresno. Nevertheless, he still feels that churches like his own must utilize the opportunities available to bless their communities and display the love of Christ during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Where there is great need, there is great opportunity, and I think each pastor needs to really pray and look for that opportunity,” says Pastor Franklin. “Every church is going to be unique because of their size, because of their situation, because of their locale. But without a doubt, there is going to be an opportunity to be able to reach out and to show the love of God and the hope that God gives at a time like this. I want, at the end of the day, for the community to be able to say, ‘Yes, the church was there to help us.’”