The Independence Samoan-English Church and the Independence Ebenezer Spanish Church currently provide food for about 200 families each month through their mobile food pantry.
In 2019, the Independence Samoan-English Church wanted to serve others. The church learned the New Haven Church, located in the neighboring Kansas-Nebraska Conference, held a food pantry weekly, and needed more volunteers. Members of the Independence Samoan-English Church started volunteering there.
“I started taking young people or whoever was available every Tuesday. And we enjoyed it,” said Mark Tagaloa, pastor for the Independence Samoan-English Church.
However, in 2020, when the pandemic hit, churches and food pantries were closed. The Independence Samoan-English Church looked for ways to continue serving others during this time. Mark Tagaloa and his wife, Sandee, decided they would use their own garage as storage for a food pantry.
“We were looking for ways to stay active as a church and also just to have purpose in a lot of people’s lives, especially as things were looking very dim with COVID,” Sandee said.
Each week, the couple picked up food from Harvesters, a food bank, and stored it in their garage. Then the couple would create food boxes that they would deliver to church members who would deliver the boxes to neighbors or those in need.
After six months of running the food pantry from the Tagaloa’s garage, the church qualified to apply as a host for a mobile food pantry. The church was approved to start a mobile food pantry by Harvesters. However, the church faced an issue, they did not have enough space at their own church to smoothly run a mobile food pantry.
Mark reached out to Juan Acosta, pastor for the nearby Independence Ebenezer Spanish Church. Mark explained to Acosta that the Independence Ebenezer Spanish Church would be an excellent location for the mobile food pantry. The Independence Ebenezer Spanish Church agreed and joined with the Independence Samoan-English Church to hold the mobile food pantry.
The first mobile food pantry was held in April 2021. The volunteers were nervous no one would show up, but through word of mouth and social media, the community learned of the pantry and many families received free food.
Since it first opened, the pantry has doubled the number of people it serves, according to Sandee.
“Every month, it gets bigger and bigger,” Mark said.
To serve so many people, the churches rely on their members to volunteer. Volunteers arrive two hours before the mobile food pantry opens at 10 a.m. to help arrange the food.
Mark said regardless of the conditions, like large rainstorms and 6-degree temperatures, volunteers are always willing to help.
“The volunteers are so wonderful,” Mark said. “It is such a great joy to see people so willing to serve.”
Volunteers say they enjoy helping at the mobile food pantry because they can see an impact in the community.
“I decided to volunteer because I’m very passionate about volunteering and helping out the community in any way that I can,” said Janet Faapouli, a young adult member of the Independence Samoan-English Church.
As the pantry continues to serve more people each month, the two churches hope they can expand their ministries.
Acosta hopes the Independence Ebenezer Spanish Church can use one of its three buildings to serve hot food to those in need and reach even more of the community.
Mark hopes the mobile food pantry can be moved from the Wednesday schedule to the Saturday schedule. This would allow more church members the opportunity to volunteer.
“A lot of our members work on Wednesday,” Mark said. “They love to hear the testimony stories, but we want everyone to experience it first-hand.”