Church’s Community Outreach Program requires walking by faith

Members of First Baptist Church of Painted Post, N.Y., serve up free take-out meals.

In 2020 and 2021, the Community Outreach Program of First Baptist Church, Painted Post, N.Y., proved to be an exercise in walking by faith. American Baptist Home Mission Societies provided $5,000 in grants to support the project, which offers free take-out meals to the community and provides financial assistance to those in need. The project was so successful that church members wondered whether it could be sustained.

With two large low-income housing projects within two blocks of the church, the turnout for the first free take-out dinner was almost twice as large as expected. Many came in their motorized wheelchairs, and many picked up dinners for others who could not do so themselves. Likewise, the number of requests for financial assistance were much larger than anticipated.

“The response to both components of our Community Outreach program—the free meals and the financial assistance—were truly unexpected and somewhat overwhelming,” writes Oystein Ostebo, chair of the church’s finance team. “We were concerned for a while that we would be out of money by Thanksgiving, but we decided to keep going—on faith—as planned, and our church family came through and supported us all the way.”

In addition to the grant money from ABHMS, members of the church and a member of the community also contributed financially. Thus the partnership among ABHMS, the church and community made the outreach successful. In 2020, the program offered four free dinners and provided more than $2,000 in financial assistance to nonchurch individuals. In 2021, another four dinners and $700 in financial aid were provided.

Through financial assistance from the church, a single mother was able to take her son to a medical specialist in Rochester, a student living on her own was able to pay tuition at Elmira (N.Y.) College and another single mom was able to keep her gas from being shut off.

Parishioners believe they’ll have the necessary funds to meet additional requests for financial assistance and offer two to three dinners this fall.

“The best thing about the program,” writes Ostebo, “has been the response from the people who come to our free dinners—to see how much they enjoy them, how grateful they are, and how much these dinners have lifted their spirits.”