MANCHESTER, NH — Historically, miracles have involved the divine production of fish and loaves to feed the hungry. In these times, miracles come wrapped in team work and are shaped like a tractor-trailer transport full of food and supplies — one that just might include some canned fish and sliced bread.
On Thursday afternoon volunteers from Tower Hill Church in Auburn will become the embodiment of a literal Convoy of Hope, distributing 1,000 bags — two per family — to those in Manchester facing food insecurity on top of general insecurity as COVID-19 disrupts everything from schools and businesses, to churches and charity.
One bag is brimming with cleaning supplies, toilet paper and other hygienic items. The other, shelf-stable milk and meat, and other canned goods and pantry items. The effort was spearheaded by Pastor Matt Ellis. As part of his regular ministry as Connections Pastor, he is acutely aware of the number of children in the Greater Manchester area who rely on food programs.
“My heart broke for all the kids I know on feeding programs for breakfast and lunch when this health scare started. Knowing we were more than likely going toward school shut downs due to COVID-19, I asked myself how can we feed kids and make sure they’re not going hungry,” Ellis said.
Ellis is connected to a national outreach, Convoy of Hope, which he describes as one of the largest relief organizations in the country, behind FEMA and The Red Cross.
“I was talking to the Convoy of Hope representative and mentioned my concerns about our kids here, and they said they had received similar calls from nine other churchs across the country. That Monday they decided to send our 100 trucks loaded with food and supplies to all ten churches, including ours in New Hampshire,” Ellis said.
Since then everything’s fallen into place.
Ellis has relied on about 60 volunteers from his congregation who worked in shifts over four days since the truck arrived, bagging up 38,000 pounds of food items and necessities while wearing Latex gloves and keeping their distance. In partnership with Amy Allen from Manchester School District, they have created a list with help from district social workers to connect with families known to be struggling financially. Those families have been notified and will be picking up their bags Thursday, starting at 2 p.m., at Tower Hill’s West Side campus, located at 130 Conant St.
“We will have a table set up, and families will drive up, give their name and volunteers will bring bags out to them,” Ellis said. Unfortunately, no walk-ups will be able to receive food bags.
“We’re trying to eliminate contact and taking this seriously in terms of social distancing recommendations from the state. We want to consider everyone’s safety but we also know this is much needed.”
Because there was not equal numbers of items to distribute, Ellis had more than enough to fill 1,000 bags with the overflow, so with help from Manchester School District, they have also connected with Auburn and Candia school districts to make sure bags went out to those in the Queen City’s little sister communities.
“Smaller towns like Candia and Auburn are getting no state funding because their numbers for free and reduced lunch are too low to qualify for the kind of state aid Manchester is getting, so [on Tuesday] we handed out about 25 bags to people in Auburn and we have another 25-30 coming to pick up more at church our church [Wednesday]. In all we made about 550 kits out of the overflow,” Ellis said.
He is also thinking ahead.
“We put it out to our church body to see how many would be willing to adopt a family to help feed kids beyond this week. Within three days we raised about $3,500, and it’s still coming in. The biggest problem is finding where we can buy things like 100 loaves of bread. We want to continue to feed kids in Candia, Auburn and even Hooksett, where they have a higher number of kids in need,” Ellis said.
“My heart breaks for them even more right now in some ways. At least Manchester is delivering food to kids via bus routes plus they are getting state aid. We’re trying to figure out how to help surrounding communities that get overlooked,” Ellis said.
Reality tells him that this crisis is going to extend beyond the next few weeks.
“As we start to figure that out and figure out what the new normal looks like, for right now we don’t know where this could go. But we will keep getting food out there to people who need it for as long as we can,” Ellis said.
Church member and volunteer Thomas Carter said there is one ask.
“If any food manufacturers out there know how to access bulk food like bread or cereal, please contact us. We’re looking to connect with the most needy populations and we can buy what we need; we just can’t find it in bulk,” Carter said. Anyone who has connections should reach out to Ellis or Carter at info@TH.church.
Outreach is nothing new for this Assemblies of God congregation. Tower Hill has been feeding the hungry for nearly four decades. Each Saturday people just show up at their Auburn church campus at 45 Myles Drive between 7-8 a.m. to pick up prepacked grocery bags. No appointment needed.
“We have really good relationships with Shaws, who provided us with bags, and the Food Bank, Hannaford has been great, Kelloggs provided us with 1,200 Rice Krisipie treats. There are so many great partnerships at work in our community,” Carter said.
They accept food donations from businesses and schools, and monetary donations from anyone with an open heart.
“We’re blessed to be working with Convoy of Hope. They are always one of the first organizations on the scene helping people in times of disaster. They feed 300,000 kids across the world every single day, and our church helps out by raising about $40-50,000 annually to help their efforts. Their goal is to reach 500,000 kids in the next few years,” Ellis said.