In his youth, Bishop Mike Swearingen sometimes battled with hunger.
About the age of 15 or 16, Swearingen, of Victoria, experienced some tough times after leaving home “in anger,” he said Thursday.
Although he wasn’t living on the streets, there were times when he’d have to stretch a 25-cent loaf of bread over two or three days.
“It’s a very lonely feeling,” said Swearingen, now 76, adding, “The mental attitude it imposes on you is ‘I’m just a loser. This is where I’m destined to be.’”
That’s why Swearingen’s Victoria food ministry, Rushing Winds Food Pantry, aims to preserve the dignity of people who come for help. Like many similar ministries in the Crossroads, Rushing Wind has partnered with the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent to feed the hungry in its community. Rushing Wind, which relies on the work of several dedicated volunteers, has been feeding local people since about 2005, and Swearingen said he estimates they help about 500 families each month with a box of groceries.
Like many of those ministries, Rushing Wind looks to Jesus as an inspiration for that work.
“Bottom line is Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep,’ so I feel like that is not only a spiritual obligation but also a physical obligation … We feel an obligation out of love to not only feed them physically but share with them spiritually . A lot of our clients ask them to pray with them.”
Jamie Happel, a Victoria County native who helped found Sportsman’s Church Food Pantry, said her ministry also tries to fill people’s spiritual needs as they offer them groceries. She and other volunteers often invite those who come for food assistance to the church’s services.
“When you are trying to serve and minister to people, you are trying to show them there is hope,” Happel said. “That’s how to lead them to Jesus.”
Sportsman’s Church’s pantry offers boxes of groceries on the first Sunday of every month at the pavilion at Son Valley Ranch, 8793 US 87. They try to give recipients a variety of foods, enough to feed a family with a healthy and hearty meal, she said . The ministry accepts donated game and livestock from farmers, ranchers and hunters.
The ministry also has partnered with the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, she said.
Although the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent conducts its own mobile food distributions, it also works through a variety of local nonprofits, like Sportsman’s Church and Rushing Wind, said Robin Cadle, president and CEO of the food bank.
Those partners pay a maintenance fee for some products, but Cadle said the food bank is able to get more bang for every donated buck through a streamlined food acquisition process.
“We have the greatest access to food,” Cadle said. “We work with the government and funders.”
For every $1 donated, the food bank is able to purchase about eight meals, she said.
The House of Bread Church’s HOPE ministry, which stands for Helping Other People Elevate, looks to the Bible for their mission, said Pastor Shirley Battles.
Jesus fed a multitude of 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and fish, and battles said she also would one day like to feed 5,000.
“It’s our job as a body of Christ,” she said. “It is our mission to help those less fortunate.”
In 2019, President Barack Obama’s administration presented her with a community service award for her work in helping her community.
A church, Battles said, must look outward to its community.
“We are only as strong as our community is,” she said, adding, “The community is what makes the church.”