At the beginning of the pandemic, humanitarian aid nonprofit Convoy of Hope came up with a simple, if lofty goal: ten million meals for people in need. Given the unprecedented scope of the COVID-19 crisis, it wasn’t hard to assume there’d be an unprecedented need for food among those affected. So Convoy started networking with local communities and churches to figure out how to get meals and other necessary resources into the hands of the people who needed them. Ten million sounded like a lot, and it was, so organizers were surprised when they blew through their goal with ease. So a new, higher goal was set — and achieved. And then another, and another …and so on.
To date, Convoy of Hope has handed over 125 million meals and counting since the COVID-19 pandemic came to the U.S. providing help and hope to an astonishing number of people who had nowhere else to turn. RELEVANT spoke with Steve Pulis, Convoy of Hope’s Senior Director of Community Events, about just how it happened.
So, you made it to over 100 million meals.
Yes, I think every step of the way has surprised us all. We launched with ten million, thinking, “Man, maybe we can hit 10 million by the end of the year.” It was about two weeks ago when I had heard, “Hey, we’re actually at 75, going to be at 80 pretty quick.” And then, boom. Oh my goodness.
How did it happen?
Initially, we knew everything was going to change this year with COVID, not only financially and educationally, but the need was going to be tremendous. And in March, when we first saw the tremendous unemployment jumps, we realized this was different. It’s not just those who were already perhaps living in poverty who are hit harder, it was also families that have two strong incomes, but all of a sudden out of nowhere, are unemployed. You have two people in the medical profession, which are making good incomes, but now both lose their jobs, but they still have the mortgage and the car payment.
So you realized this was a different kind crisis than you’d faced before.
We knew strategically, we had to do something different, think different, pivot, make the changes. The vision was: “What if during this pandemic, we could actually provide ten million meals to the people that have been hit the worst, that need the most help from this?” We thought if we do that by the end of the year, it’d be incredible.
And that’s where some of the miracles started take place. God opens up doors and opportunities through existing relationships, sometimes to brand new partners. More would come in, we’d send it back out. And it just grew so quickly. We passed ten million and at that point said, “OK, so our next goal is 20 million.” And we work hard, but we trust in God’s provision. It’s that combination of God doing His work and us doing our work. God honored the step of faith, and here we are: a hundred million meals.
How does it actually work? How do you get the food to people?
It’s pretty simple. Cars pull in, we ask them to pop the trunk and then we’re able to put, it depends on the city, but something like four bags of groceries, oftentimes items like Bombas socks, or Gardens in a Bag so you can grow your own herbs and vegetables at home. Nutritional information is there. We have the local team put together continuing ongoing resources, things from COVID health issues, job opportunities for those that have lost their jobs, dental, everything that you need. Here’s the website, here’s the phone number, here’s the how to get in contact with, even in a cold environment, here’s what to do. It’s immediate help, but it’s ongoing help as well. There’s no litmus test. You don’t have to do anything. If you come in and you need help, pop your trunk, here’s the help.
Where we can, we offer prayer to those who want it. Often, after you’ve gotten your groceries. If you want to go ahead and leave, you can. But if you would like to pull over, there’s someone from a local church who will pray with you. There’s not a preconceived speed you go through or any kind of gospel presentation. It’s how can we, as the Church, come around your needs.
Sounds like an awfully well-organized event.
We think it’s the first steps to something bigger and something more. Really, we’re looking to say: “How do we continue to meet people in their time of need? How do we be the compassion of Jesus? How are we the hands and feet?”
How would you advise other organizations — churches, people who want to help — about staying flexible and being able to pivot?
I don’t think we can do it on our own. It’s really where the role of the Holy Spirit comes in. Hal Donaldson, our founder, always says, “We don’t touch the glory.”
We’re doing it to build the kingdom. It’s God’s kingdom, so it’s all about Him. It’s that combination working hard, but trusting the Holy Spirit’s anointing. That combination of our excellence, but God permeating everything that we do. I can work as hard as I want, but without that second factor, nothing of eternal value is going to take place.
I think my prayer the entire time has been, “God, I need you more than I ever have.” We don’t know what next week or next month looks like, but we’re continuing to work hard and trust that God is directing our steps. We say, “Lord, I don’t know what you want to do, but I know there’s a lot of people that need help and I know you want to help them. So give us your thoughts and ideas, open the doors that we can walkthrough.”
And you’ve seen the results of taking those sorts of leaps of faith.
Yeah. I choke up right now, on the phone, seeing families drive up distributions as I’ve been at and waited in line for blocks and just the smile on her face. And the “Thank you!” …to see the need and see the kids in the car and to have that opportunity to help meet needs now. Only God. That’s the secret and the key. It’s not really a secret, it’s what we know. It’s really spending time trying to listen to God, being intentional about that, seeing what God opens up, trusting him, looking to him, we need him acknowledging that and then giving him all the credit and all the glory, that’s how I’d summarize it.