by Diana Bulls
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35
On any given Tuesday morning people start gathering at the First Assembly of God Church in Dinuba, and by 9:00 a.m. the social hall is filled. Pastors Don Hall and Roland De LaCerda welcome the people and share the gospel message for the day; then volunteers begin to hand out loaves of bread—it’s all part of the Bread of Life Ministry.
This scene has been played out over and over for the past nine years, according to Pastor Hall of the First Assembly of God. When he first came to Dinuba from Fresno 11 years ago, he took a look around and realized there was great need in the community. Open Gate Ministries had been working in Dinuba since the mid-1970s, and Pastor Hall realized that additional help was needed. “I’ve always been involved in compassion ministries,” he said, “with a heart for people. It was such a big need, we just wanted to help.”
And help they did, first by contacting a bakery in Clovis and arranging to pick up leftover bread one day a week and then distributing it to the hungry the next day, along with a message from the Gospel of Jesus. In addition to bread, there is often produce from local farmers and the Gleaning for the Hungry organization, as well as food staples from area non-profit groups and local grocery stores. In the fall and winter months, there are 250 to 300 people of all ages filling the church social hall every Tuesday. The number drops to about 100 or so in the summer because people have returned to work in the fields or packing houses, according to Pastor Hall. All that is required to participate is a photo I.D. and proof of residence in the Dinuba area.
Calvario Community Church has now joined forces with First Assembly of God and both churches work together in the Bread of Life ministry. Pastor De LaCerda of Calvario Community brings the gospel message in Spanish and Pastor Hall shares in English. “We have created a new, bi-lingual congregation that meets every Tuesday morning,” said Pastor Hall.
As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of organization to handle the logistics of a food give-away of this size. The person in charge is Domingo Frausto, a member of First Assembly of God. Domingo has been involved with Bread of Life for seven years. “I love it,” said Domingo. “I never get tired of it. It is just awesome.” Domingo has leukemia, but that doesn’t seem to slow him down or suppress his enthusiasm for ministering to those in need.
To prepare for the bread give away, two drivers and an assistant drive to Entenmanns’ Bakery in Clovis on Monday morning to load up the bread and deliver it to the church social hall. Back in Dinuba there is a crew of volunteers made up of church members and seniors from the city senior center waiting to unload the trucks and bag up the bread. Recently each family has been receiving four loaves of bread a week, along with other food items. “God has blessed us this winter!” continued Domingo.
On Tuesday mornings, volunteers begin arriving to set up tables and chairs and people begin arriving–every one pitches in to help set up. When everything is ready, the people take numbers and sit down in preparation for the morning gospel lesson. After the final blessing, the food is distributed until it is gone.
There are times during the year, especially on holidays, when there is no bread or food available, but the people still come for the “bread of life” the gospel of Jesus teaches. “It breaks my heart to see people suffer,” said Domingo, “but the smiles from the families fill me with joy.” Domingo shared a story about one family with four children, three boys and one girl, who have been coming to Bread of Life for a while. All of the children had very long hair. One Tuesday, the father asked Domingo if he would say a special prayer for his wife who has cancer. The father also shared that all of the children were growing their hair to be cut off and given to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs for children with long-term hair loss due to diseases like cancer.
In addition to the weekly Bread of Life Ministry, the First Assembly of God Church has partnered with the Community Food Bank of Fresno County to distribute food on a once- monthly basis and with Food Link of Tulare County to distribute food every other month on the first Wednesday. These agencies receive their food from the USDA, gleaning groups, food processors, local food drives and other sources. Food is delivered to certified distribution centers through the county.
The Church has also provided a free community Thanksgiving dinner for several years. This year they gave out 1000 meals. “The food is out there; we just try to direct it to Dinuba,” said Pastor Hall.
Domingo sums up how being involved with Bread of Life Ministry makes him feel, “Joyful! Alive! It just lifts me up!”