Founded in 2010 to address food insecurity, Hope for the Community (HFTC) — a Minnesota nonprofit founded by a local Wesleyan church — served over 2.2 million pounds of food last year.

HFTC’s neighbors have faced an intersection of overwhelming challenges in the past few years: they shared in the global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread economic downturn, even as their own Minnesota community was wracked with grief over the death of George Floyd and a reckoning on racial injustice. Amid these pressures, HFTC’s message struck to the root of a holiness witness: offering volunteers and church members an opportunity to love their neighbors both systemically and personally.

“The manifestation of holiness is love,” emphasized Dr. Alan Goracke, founder of HFTC and senior pastor at Hope Church, Blaine, Minnesota. “And when you love people, that goes a long way. Love is valuing people as being created in the image of God, and that’s it. … There is no motive outside of loving people.”

In a climate of dehumanization and fractured trust, that underlying culture — of love, fellowship and self-giving service — helped HFTC meet both physical and existential needs. The food shelves provided needed resources for families; but they also affirmed the God-given dignity of each person who walked through their doors.

Recently, HFTC’s community research points toward deep food insecurity within children and students in their region. To target those demographics, HFTC opened food shelves within local community colleges — one at Anoka Technical College and another at Normandale Community College — and placed their other shelves in convenient locations near local public schools.

A $250,000 grant from the state of Minnesota enabled HFTC to outfit their four locations with industrial, computer-controlled refrigeration in early 2021. “Little did we know why God would give us this grant. … that was building our capacity for the people we would serve this year,” said Dr. Goracke.

He cites their model as distinctly transformational for those they serve. While schools may offer a granola bar or some water for students, many continue to underperform academically because they come from homes experiencing food insecurity. HFTC — unlike a traditional food shelf — provides food through the school for the entire family, not only students.

“Families receive dairy, produce, healthy nonperishable food. … At Normandale, we fed 181 students this past week — but when we dug into the numbers, we found that we served around 600 people, because we gave food for their family members.”

HFTC’s reputation — and their role as the largest food shelf in the area — has expanded their purchasing power, allowing them to purchase large quantities of nutritious food for a fraction of publicly-posted prices. “Two dollars can purchase 50 pounds of food for a family,” stated Dr. Goracke.

A recently awarded grant from TPC Rose, a Twin Cities’ philanthropic women’s organization, will allow HFTC to expand their locations to serve more in nearby communities, especially areas in which kids and students are affected by food insecurity. Their plan is to open four or five new food shelf locations within the next 18-24 months, expanding their reach to eight or nine food shelves, some of which will be home to a small church venue, an offshoot of Hope Church. “We want to plant churches focused not on a big production value, but on meeting the needs of their neighbors,” said Dr. Goracke.

That spirit reflects the heart of the partnership between Hope Church and HFTC. While HFTC is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit, their mission is deeply rooted in the church’s hope to practice the way of Christ. Hope Church’s vision is to feed people spiritually through the teachings of Jesus & physically through HFTC which reflects their desire to meet holistic needs. That genuine mission of service has not gone unnoticed, even from people who are otherwise skeptical about church.

“There are people who come into our food shelf who never set foot in our services — yet when you ask them, ‘Do you have a congregation?’ They say, ‘Hope Church is my church,’” said Dr. Goracke. “That really is at the heart of holiness: you have to love people, and you’re called to love people no matter what they’re doing.”

Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.