Virginia Calvary Chapel Reaches Out to Serve Needy Families
Story by Trinity Grau
Photos by Will Lemon
For many, 2020 was a year of unprecedented withdrawal from the Church. But for Cornerstone Chapel, a Calvary Chapel in Leesburg, VA, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic brought a new opportunity to reach out to its community—400 Cornerstone volunteers funneled more than 11,000 boxes of food to needy families.
When national mandates for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 rolled out, Senior Pastor Gary Hamrick knew that there was great need in the Leesburg area. At the same time in Washington, D.C., President Trump’s daughter Ivanka was working with the nation’s agriculture industry to create a nationwide program that would eventually assist the Leesburg community. God used this cooperative church-state effort to spread His Gospel and feed more families than their church ever expected.
A volunteer from Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA, waves at a couple waiting to pick up boxes of free food. Behind his mask, the driver’s eyes seem to be smiling. Beyond helping to distribute food boxes, church members at the Calvary Chapel affiliate have become excited about volunteering in the broader Leesburg community.
From Dilemma to Opportunity
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
In March 2020, farmers found themselves in a dilemma. Schools, stadiums, and restaurants that would have normally paid for the goods provided by the agriculture industry found themselves closed. With no one to buy their products, farmers were without a means of distributing them. The Farmers to Families project—spearheaded by Ivanka Trump—started to collect and dispense food to lower-income families. When a liaison to the president’s spiritual advisor reached out to Pastor Gary regarding the program, the senior pastor knew this was a perfect way for Cornerstone Chapel to become more involved in the community. “COVID has really caused [people to have] a lot of time to look inwards and withdraw, but now is not the time for the church to withdraw. Now is a time to engage and reach our community for Jesus,” Gary noted.
Though the church did shut down for the mandatory months in the spring, they reopened to continue serving the community while maintaining mask and cleaning mandates for safety. The deputy secretary of agriculture at the time, Stephen Censky, worked with Pastor Gary and the Cornerstone staff to arrange for almost 2,500 boxes to be delivered to families in need.
Two men load up the trunk of a minivan outside Cornerstone Chapel in February. “The church body has had the opportunity to create real community through this ministry,” exclaimed Gary Hamrick, senior pastor of Cornerstone.
It was a big jump from the church’s previous, smaller weekly outreaches providing food essentials and the Gospel message into area low-income communities. Prior to this contact from the federal government, “The pandemic really opened our eyes to the huge Latin [American] community that was being impacted,” Pastor Mike admitted. On Wednesdays, Mike had led volunteers into local pockets of low-income housing to provide aid. Church volunteers had prayed with those who had been hit hard by the COVID-19 safety measures. Mike recalled praying with one woman who was, unknown to him, a member of Cornerstone: “It was a humbling moment for me, just so incredible.” Many like her, some from a mostly Spanish-speaking community, were positively affected by these Wednesday events. What came next—the collaboration with the federal government—would only magnify earlier efforts.
A young boy excitedly sticks his body out of his family car to watch two men load the trunk with boxes.
The Effort Grows
“Yes, I [the LORD] will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” Jeremiah 32:41
As August rolled in, U.S. Secret Service personnel arrived at Cornerstone to prepare for the arrival of President Trump and his daughter to help deliver boxes. However, news reached them that the president’s brother had died. This meant that their special guests would not be available to help in person. Nevertheless, Pastor Gary and the congregation were assured that the outreach would still continue.
Two tractor trailers of boxed food were sent to the church, and Cornerstone held the outreach. The event was a success. For Pastor Mike, it was the beginning of the church’s passion for such bigger projects. “For the first time, we had flyers printed in both Spanish and English so that we could do outreach to more people, which was awesome,” he enthused. Families were overwhelmed by the amount of food that they’d been blessed with; Mike believed that Cornerstone Chapel had found the right ministry in this time of need.
People line up in their cars at Cornerstone Chapel to receive free food boxes. Cornerstone distributed thousands of boxes for families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the initial event wrapped up, questions turned to how the church would continue to supply their expanded ministry. Many options were considered, with a smaller number of boxes being provided by CityServe California in September 2020. The option did not last long, however; another solution was needed. God was faithful to provide through the Blessings of Hope ministry in Pennsylvania. With the ability to buy 40-pound boxes packed with food essentials, Cornerstone could now provide boxes to the community to continue the ministry—and this time they were even more ambitious.
“We gathered volunteers who were Spanish speakers and printed out cards for the church, as well as flyers in both English and Spanish,” Mike explained. “Then we had about 30 volunteers canvass the low-income housing areas near [us].” The church spread the word on a Tuesday in October as vans went out distributing flyers for the outreach. Though community response was slow, the word spread and with 2,500 boxes of food delivered to the church in under a week’s time, Cornerstone was again prepared to receive visitors.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Psalm 37:3
Two volunteers from Cornerstone Chapel load up boxes into the trunk and back seat of a car. In the background are stacks of filled boxes prepared for those who need them. Supplies have come from both the federal government’s “Farmers to Families” program and private ministries.
Cornerstone Chapel’s wraparound parking lot was set up to have four lanes of cars to make way for hundreds of expected visitors. Volunteers waited in lines to pray and hand out food. Pastor Mike described the day as nothing short of a blessing, seeing how many were encouraged to come out. That event was so successful that the church has continued the Farmers to Families outreach every other month.
Finding Individual Callings
Church leadership realized there were many Hispanic community members that they could be reaching, and even more families who were still in need. “Christians can use each of their individual gifts from the Lord,” Pastor Mike encouraged. “We recruited entire lines of volunteers who could speak Spanish. Now if someone wants to pray to receive Christ, we can have them pull off and pray with a volunteer who’s able to communicate with them.” Cornerstone’s Spanish YouTube channel has over 300 subscribers and has had over 400 views for some teachings. The fellowship’s reach grew as more families received Jesus and helped in the following months.
Pastor Gary fondly recalled the reactions from visitors to the church. “[The] kids were so excited when we’d put boxes in the back seats, and you could just see it for the parents, too. They were just so blessed.” Those families aren’t the only ones who have been transformed by this ministry. The church body has also had the opportunity to create real community. With so many congregants wanting to volunteer, the church has directed them to different ministries, including the local Salvation Army. The ability to understand their spiritual gifts has given them clarity regarding how they can truly aid the community in need. Cornerstone continues its previous weekly food distributions in the local former Walmart to minister to more people. In December, after having distributed most of their boxes, the church spontaneously brought out bonfire pits and hot chocolate for the volunteers. The group did not want to go home, even late into the night—a testament to the importance of fellowship.
But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Hebrews 13:16
Men and women place boxes into a car. As the outreaches continued, Pastor Mike urged the church family to individually use the spiritual gifts the Lord had given them to serve their community.
With over 1,000 hours from approximately 400 volunteers as of March 2021, Cornerstone is on a roll and not looking to stop. “I’m really just hoping that we don’t lose our foothold once COVID goes away,” Pastor Mike explained. “This is something that God really put on our hearts, and we want to keep going.” Their prayer is that more church members would find their callings through—and after—these outreaches. Almost 11,000 families have been fed through the program, with any extra boxes being given to neighbors, coworkers, and others who could not come in person. “There’s no blessing like serving,” Mike shared, smiling. In 2021, they anticipate seeing how God will continue to use them to influence the people around them.
Mike Frick (right), Cornerstone’s outreach pastor, helps load the back of a pick-up truck with boxes. The food outreaches began early in 2020 and have continued over the months. “The pandemic really opened our eyes to the huge Latin [American] community that was being impacted,” Mike shared.
A man from Cornerstone enjoys his conversation with a resident. Church members also prayed with anyone who wanted it. “We recruited … volunteers who could speak Spanish,” Pastor Mike said. If someone wanted to pray to receive Christ, they could pull off and pray with a volunteer who was able to communicate with them.
Tracey Levy (center) carries a box of food to a waiting car. The pandemic gave 400 Cornerstone volunteers the opportunity to feed more than 11,000 families in need during the past year.
A Cornerstone volunteer speaks with a driver waiting for food boxes. Pastor Gary noted, “COVID-19 has really caused [people to have] a lot of time to look inward and withdraw, but now is not the time for the Church to withdraw. Now is a time to engage and reach our community for Jesus.”
A woman talks with a community resident during the February 2021 outreach. Church volunteers have donated more than 1,000 hours to these outreach efforts, which have encouraged the congregation to more fully engage their community for Jesus.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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