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Ebenezer Christian Center food pantry
Ebenzer Christian Center in Sacramento, California, discovered that the hunger that existed in its community wasn't limited to the kids in their children's ministry. The church now distributes enough groceries for 11,000 to 14,000 meals a month.

When Karen Abrego first came to Ebenezer Christian Center (AG) in Sacramento, California, six years ago as an associate pastor, she was a very experienced children's worker and filled with confidence in her ability to reach children for Christ. 

But her confidence was quickly tested and then frustrated. She couldn't seem to get the children's attention, much less get them to settle down. Behavioral issues were rampant. Did the kids just not want to be there? Was it a lack of respect? What was she missing?

"I decided to kill them with kindness," Abrego says. "So, it was an Easter Sunday, and we made silver-dollar blueberry pancakes for the children." Moments later, the light went on for Abrego.

"When the children started to eat, I remembered hearing that sound before . . . it was this moaning sound as they ate — it was the same sound the malnourished children I had cared for in El Salvador made when they were fed," she says.

Albrego realized that many of the children were coming to church hungry.

Ebenezer Christian Center, a member of the Assemblies of God Northern Pacific Latin American District (NPLAD), is located in a low-income, high-crime part of south Sacramento. As Abrego investigated further, she discovered that the nearby elementary school was a Title I school and that 98 percent of the kids attending were on a reduced-rate or free-meal program. 

"The kids were coming to school and receiving breakfast and lunch five days a week, but on the weekends they were food poor," she says. Ironically Sacramento is known as a rich agricultural area, but the people living in the church's neighborhood didn't have the funds or transportation to readily access it — so they did without.

Pastor Dan and Dionna Garza
Pastor Dan and Dionna Garza

Understanding the need, Abrego met with Senior Pastor Dan Garza, and the church began serving healthy snacks to the children on Sunday mornings. They then partnered with a food bank to provide food for families through the church twice a month.

"In February, due to budget cuts, the elementary school lost the support of its food bank," Abrego says. "We went to our food bank and asked if they would pick up the school and its families — they agreed as long as we provided the volunteers." 

Ebenezer Christian Center has an attendance of 350-400. As many of those attending come from the community and understand (sometimes personally) the desperate need of so many of the neighborhood families, the church confidently agreed to the food bank's request for volunteers.

The church now gives away enough food for 11,000 to 14,000 meals each month.

Efraim Espinoza, director of AG Office Of Hispanic Relations, states, "Ebenezer Christian Center, under the leadership of Pastor Dan Garza, serves as a great testimony that the Assemblies of God wants to reach out in compassion to those around it." 

Although some may assume that because the church is a Hispanic church, its community is strictly Hispanic, Abrego quickly clarifies that the area is a "mixing pot" of multiple ethnicities, including Russian, Ukrainian, Filipino, Hispanic, Hmong and Middle Eastern — to name a few. 

Providing healthy snacks for the children on Sunday mornings has been transformational for the church as the children are now attentive. In addition, the food bank has made a huge impact on the church's community. The staff now calls their twice-monthly food distribution from the church their "Friday morning congregation."

Pastor Karen Abrego
Associate Pastor Karen Abrego with two gentlemen from the Ukraine who the church now ministers to through its food pantry.

"The difference between what we do and other food pantries do is that we pray over and with people who come," Abrego says. "The people ask us to pray for their needs. We recently had one woman come rushing in, not worried that she was going to miss getting her groceries, but that she had missed prayer!"

The efforts the church has made to supply groceries to the community has torn down walls, introduced people to the church, and built relationships between the community and church volunteers and staff.

"Now, I walk down the street and people are calling out to me, 'Hey PK [Pastor Karen]!'"

The school has also communicated its thankfulness, saying that children are better behaved and are able to learn more easily without the distraction of hunger. One teacher shared how thankful she was that she could direct parents who were needing food for their families to the church's food distribution at the school. 

NPLAD Superintendent Jesse Galindo affirms the efforts of the church by saying, "We need more pastors like Pastor Dan [Garza] that will empower and support their staff to fulfill the Great Commission through their specific ministry in the local church."

In addition to food ministry, Ebenezer Christian Center also has a ministry to the homeless, taking clothing to the homeless communities every other month; they have brought in registered nurses to give free flu shots; they've helped families register for healthcare; and opened their doors for all kinds of events to meet needs. 

"We're not a mega-church," Abrego says, "but we're consistently chipping away at the rock of poverty and making a difference in families and lives. We've become the hub of our community . . . , and isn't that what the church is supposed to be?"

 


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National Girls Ministries missions giving breaks another record

Wed, 16 Jan 2013 - 4:14 PM CST

Some Olympic records such as Bob Beamon's (USA) 1968 Olympic long jump record of 29 feet 2 inches can hold for decades. Others might be broken more than once in one Olympic competition, as with the 2012 British Cycling Women Team Pursuit, that broke the world record in each round of the competition and finished with the gold medal.

The Coins for Kids total giving for the 2012 project - Alaska: the place of God - has broken the project giving record for the third year in a row! Girls across the United States gave $215,276.34 to help build a permanent multi-purpose building at Camp Agaiutim Nune (Camp AN) in Western Alaska. The amount beats last year's giving record of $201,263.

Candy Tolbert
Tolbert

"We are absolutely blown away," exclaims Candy Tolbert, national Girls Ministries Director. "Our giving year for Alaska was actually closer to 9 months than 12 this year. Project giving has been from April to March until this year. Due to that, churches could give to the 2011 South Africa project through March 2012. From that point on, offerings were dedicated to Alaska. In a year of transition, God has provided."

In faith, missionaries Jim and Linda Schulz began making preparations throughout the year to build the new multi-purpose building. Due to the limited weeks of good building weather, camps will be held in the drafty tents for one last summer. Teams are in place to deliver materials and begin building on July 1. A dedication of the new building is scheduled for Summer 2014.

"I knew from the beginning that this project was birthed in our hearts and His timing was perfect," says Schulz. "Thank you to the girls and leaders across the nation for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit to give and to come along side us in prayer."

"The girls in our clubs have once again taken the Coins for Kids project to heart," Tolbert adds tearfully. "They have given to help the Yupik people of Alaska have a place to come and hear the salvation message and grow in their relationship with the God of the universe. Teaching girls about the Great Commission is one of the greatest purposes of Girls Ministries Girls Clubs. I am thrilled to see girls giving so faithfully."

As churches heard about the Alaska project many without Girls Clubs that just had a heart for the project gave too. These churches and Royal Rangers Outposts gave an additional $12,748.93.

"We might not have reached our Coins for Kids goal of $225,000 for this project through the giving of the girls in our clubs," says Tolbert, "but with the help of some Royal Rangers and other churches, Camp AN will receive enough funds to construct a building where Yupik children, youth and families can come each summer and experience a relationship with God in a warm, dry environment."

Coins for Kids is a BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge) endorsed effort. For more information about Girls Ministries and Coins for Kids, click here.

Authors: Lori Van Veen

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