STEARNS, Ky. (KY) – Three days before the governor announced an order for all restaurants to close dine-in service, Kentucky Baptist pastor Grant Hasty was already preparing the switch to carry-out at the Lord’s Café, a benevolent food ministry of Crossroads Community Baptist Church in Stearns, Ky.
The reason for the change, at least at first, said Hasty, was not about social distancing so much as losing about half of his volunteers. Some are elderly and felt safer staying home. Others needed to take care of family members who would be more susceptible to the coronavirus.
Instead of a restaurant crew of 12, Hasty was looking at preparing hundreds of meals with a team about half that number. Since packaging to-go meals requires fewer volunteers, he said the decision was easy to make.
“Crossroads is almost 10 years old and we’re finally getting to the point where we are breaking through barriers,” Hasty said. The last thing the church wanted to do was let people in McCreary County down in a time of crisis.
Since Monday, café volunteers cooked, assembled and distributed more than 550 homecooked meals by way of a makeshift drive-thru. They also provided groceries for 280 families — double what they do in a typical week.
Hasty said he missed going from table to table talking and praying with people, but thankful that, despite “the season we are in, we’re still able to show Christ.”
About 10 minutes before noon on Thursday, a young woman in a sun-faded blue sedan pulled into the parking lot of the Lord’s Café.
“Is this where they are giving out meals?” she asked timidly. She was directed to pull around to the back of the restaurant and wait.
Inside, church members and other local volunteers were hurriedly spooning baked chicken, corn, mashed potatoes and yeast rolls — made fresh that morning — into white foam containers. Placed last in each container was a “cobbler surprise” made with either peach, blueberry or pineapple.
“About a month ago we received a pallet of bottled water, and I thought, ‘God what are you giving us all this water for?’” said Hasty. “Now, we are giving out bottles of water with the meals.”
Water was only the first unexpected gift. In the weeks leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, the Lord’s Café has received unusually large quantities of protein, like a shipment of bacon, a pallet of chicken and 1,000 lbs. of salmon.
Before setting off for Knoxville to purchase to-go containers and other needed items, Hasty posted a request online.
“We put on Facebook, ‘Hey, this is what God is leading us to do. If you can help us out, here’s how to donate online.’ Then we went to Sam’s in Knoxville, came back and our Sam’s bill was within a few dollars of what came in that afternoon,” Hasty said.
“God just keeps providing,” he added.
Back outside, several more cars had arrived and were waiting in line behind the blue sedan. Before the first customer of the day received her containers of food, bottled water and plastic utensils, one of the volunteers asked if he could pray with her. The young woman bowed her head and after the prayer, she thanked him and drove away.
The steady stream of cars circling the Lord’s Café on Thursday continued for the next two hours and included people like Barbara Davis who was picking up meals for herself and her 87-year-old boyfriend.
“It means a lot to me,” said Davis of the free meals. “It’s helping feed our community, the kids who are out of school and the elderly. We have a lot of elderly.”
Davis described the workers at the café as “wonderful people. We think a lot of them.”
Crossroads member Carol Buscho eagerly took on the role of passing food containers to drivers — deftly slipping stacks of six or more through open vehicle windows.
“Can I pray with you before you go?” Buscho asked each person. Her offer was rarely declined. Many would mention specific prayer concerns about a family member’s health or protection from the coronavirus.
Buscho said working at the Lord’s Café is as much a blessing for her as she imagines it is for others. She talked about the friendships she has developed in the short year and a half since joining the church.
Being able to serve in this way “has drawn me closer to the Lord,” Buscho said.
Hasty said whether Crossroads is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked or providing shelter for the homeless, “it all anchors back to the gospel.”
Attached to each food container was information about Crossroads ministries and the 3 Circles gospel diagram, something the pastor uses regularly in the café to explain the brokenness of sin and how turning to God provides peace.
“It’s exciting to watch how God meets the needs. We have never shut the doors because we don’t have food, but food is just a tool. You have to include the gospel or we’re just an agency and not the church,” he said.
Hasty said benevolent ministries are challenging, especially during a pandemic. A week ago, he did not know how the Lord’s Café was going to manage financially. But he encouraged fellow Kentucky Baptist churches to “step up” and trust the Lord.
“Once you make that first step in faith, God always meets the need,” he said.