Liberty Southern Baptist Church is “The church with purpose.” Every week they provide food boxes to hundreds of those in need throughout the community.
Something special is happening at Liberty Southern Baptist Church. Every week, without fail, the parking lots overflow and folks flock to the sanctuary before the sun makes its appearance in the morning sky.
They’re moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, children hanging onto the arms of their parents and they’re all here for one purpose. Each week, volunteers distribute more than 500 food boxes to the community. With no funding, but full hearts, they manage to change thousands of lives every single year.
“We are supposed to create disciples and this is how we do it,” Pastor Michael Fredette said. “All of these people are volunteers. Many started as recipients. They came and got food and had the gospel preached to them and their lives were changed. Now they’re wanting to give back, to bless others as they were blessed so they volunteer on the other side of the line.”
It all began when a young boy came up to Michael Fredette following a church service. Tugging on his sleeve, the boy said he was hungry and the pastor headed to the emergency food pantry they had to give him something to eat. The shelves were nearly empty.
He started to purchase pizza for the youth every week and soon realized many adults were sitting down for the meal as well. That transitioned into the church cooking a large meal every Wednesday. Then they started cooking on Sundays. Eventually, they stumbled across a woman who was running a nearby food ministry and she taught them exactly how they could create and operate something larger to meet their community’s needs.
Now they hold the food ministry from approximately 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Wednesday. The majority of the food is
donated from organizations like Feeding Tampa Bay and Walmart. However, the cost of transportation to get the food under one roof runs approximately $2,000 a month.
Michael Fredette’s wife, Gina Fredette, also works at the church running the voluntary pre-kindergarten education program. As the food ministry continued to grow they had to find a way to afford the growing transportation costs. So the Fredettes volunteered to work without a salary, pouring their time into the church and community they love so those in need never went without.
“The church doesn’t have a budget. The money we get from donations — well, most of it — goes toward repairs and keeping the electric on,” Gina Fredette said. “The school helps pay for the food ministry and Feeding America gives us a majority of the food. What’s amazing is we have this little gas can at the table where people sign in. A lot of people will reach into their pocket and put some coins or whatever they have into the can. They want to give back. That money usually goes into the gas tank of the box truck that brings the food.”
The church still does a free lunch after every Sunday service and Gina Fredette said they usually see more than 100 people stop in for a warm meal. During the Florida Strawberry Festival, they found out many of the workers struggle to afford to eat because of the way their income is structured. So, every day, the church cooks three meals and opens its doors to anyone in need.
They serve an average of 20,000 meals over the course of the festival with church members volunteering their time and resources to help keep people from going to bed with empty stomachs.
“God didn’t give us this church, he didn’t put us in a position in this church to sit here and take money for it and not help those in need,” Gina Fredette said. “It’s more of a calling to do what’s right in God’s eyes and to give back. Everybody deserves to be treated with respect, everyone should help someone else if they can. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Vivian Mattair and Neva Bell greet every single person that walks through the front door on Wednesday mornings. On Nov. 14, more than 400 people had already signed in at the church by 11 a.m. There would be far more than 500 by the time they began wrapping up at 2 p.m. They say they give out an equivalent of 25 tons of food every week. Once signed in, they go in groups of 75 at a time through the line and the sanctuary remains open to help keep everyone out of the brutal Florida sun.
Mattair has been volunteering for the last three to four years and said there are people lined up outside the church doors before she arrives at 7 a.m. They’re arriving before daylight to grab their boxes of food. She said she sees a lot of the same faces every week and over the years has gotten to know many of the attendees. They’ve struck up friendships that never cease to touch her heart, she said.
When they go to sign in, empty prayer cards are left on the table. They are welcome to fill out prayer requests and the pastor prays over each entry every week.
“I just love people, I love to talk to people,” Mattair said. “They tell us what the Lord is doing in their lives and we tell them what He is doing in ours. If they don’t have a home church we let them know our doors are always open. Come as you are, there is no judgment or requirements to worship here.”
The majority of those coming through the ministry are the elderly. Michael Fredette said the demographic is 55% elderly, 25% single moms, 10% disabled, 5% families in need, 4% miscellaneous needs and 1% homeless.
“So many of these are elderly people,” Michael Fredette said. “The government is failing our community, our society, when old people have to stand in line to ensure they can eat. We are trying to restore their dignity. This isn’t a soup kitchen, it’s a food ministry. Next week it will be crazy because you’ll see all the children out of school with their parents. It’ll break your heart.”
As the group of 75 people file into the fellowship hall to receive their boxes, they are prayed over and receive a brief message of faith from the volunteers.
This week they were encouraged to remember that God has provided all of this today. Not the church, not the volunteers, but God. They said He personally is blessing every single person there and if they see someone in need, they should bless them as well.
The message was met with loud shouts of “Amen” and applause from the crowd.
Anyone interested in helping the church in its ministry can donate by calling 813-752-5432. They are also in desperate need of a walk-in freezer to help store the food.