Local church provides 1.4 million pounds of food for those in need in 2020
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IDAHO FALLS – If you spend any time on Facebook in eastern Idaho, the Bridge Church in Idaho Falls may have come across your news feed.
It hosts a weekly food giveaway for members of the community. Pastor Jay Spangenberg begins a Facebook live stream when the truck arrives and the food is ready for people to pick up.
It’s a tradition that began in 2016 and 2020 was the biggest year yet. PalletsofLove.org, a website for the church’s nonprofit that hosts the food giveaways, reports 1,465,010 pounds of food was given away last year, more than double what was given away in 2019.
Spangenberg attributes the increase to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
“That was a big part of it for sure,” Spangenberg says. “Not all of it, but a big part of it.”
Last April, the program began providing food for families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The USDA partnered with grocery stores and farmers nationwide to package fresh produce, dairy, meat and canned goods into 30-pound boxes and send them to food banks and nonprofits to give to those in need.
The rest of the food for the giveaways comes from a variety of places, including rescued food that would just get thrown away if Spangenberg didn’t use it because it was over manufactured. A semi-truck brings it from Salt Lake City to Idaho Falls every week. It’s distributed evenly to anyone who wants it on a first-come, first-serve basis, with no strings attached. Spangenberg says it’s usually gone fairly quickly.
“In two hours we’re done. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more. It depends what it is and what time of the day,” he says. “We can’t have traffic jams on 12th Street (where the church is located). We get in trouble. That’s why we sometimes use the (parking lot) of the drive-in theater.”
Many people who come to get the food have a desperate need for it, Spangenberg says. Some have lost jobs and are in tears because they don’t know when they’ll be able to go grocery shopping again.
Spangenberg says he’s heard a lot of stories like this over the years and these giveaways are a rewarding way for him to reach out and help people.
“Part of (the joy comes from) watching our volunteers works together, the camaraderie, the fun that comes with that. A great group of people that are faithful,” he says. “Watching the looks on their faces the first time when they ask ‘What do I have to do to get it?’ ‘Nothing. Where do you want it?’ It’s just fun … giving it away.”
The weekly giveaways started when a pastor from Burley asked Spangenberg if he wanted a shipment of Chobani yogurt from Twin Falls. From there, other agencies across the country got involved and the calls for food became more consistent.
“Now we have insurance, maintenance on forklifts and other things,” Spangenberg says. “The food’s free, but the majority of the time we have to pay for the shipping.”
Donations are always accepted to help pay for shipping costs.
To Spangenberg, these giveaways are purely about blessing others. He’s not interested in numbers and he’s uncomfortable with the recognition. It’s a tradition he plans to continue for as long as it’s needed.
“It’s been a lot of fun to reach out and love on people in our community. Hopefully, we’re making a difference in people’s lives,” Spangenberg says.
‘God got a hold of my heart’
Spangenberg became a pastor about 25 years ago and moved to Idaho Falls in August of 2008, but pursuing a life of ministry isn’t what he originally set out to do.
He served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years before starting a construction business. Though he was successful, Spangenberg felt empty inside and he wasn’t happy.
“Before I was a believer, I was big-time living in the world, partying. I like to tell people I grew up on a barstool and everything that goes along with that. God literally delivered me out of that,” he says.
Spangenberg says “God got a hold of his heart” in 1994 when he attended a popular Christian play in Nampa called “Heaven’s Gates & Hell’s Flames.”
He had a drink on the way to the play and continued to struggle with drinking even after that night.
“One night I went to bed and I was rationalizing it was ok to drink because Jesus made the water into wine. God spoke to me that night and told me to go to Galatians 4:9,” Spangenberg says. “It basically says, ‘I feel like I’ve wasted my time on you.’ I said ‘No, you didn’t.’ I was delivered and I stopped drinking. It was a very powerful moment.”
Spangenberg got involved in church from that day on and for the next five years, he says God continued to mentor him. He became a pastor in 1998 and has been in ministry ever since. The most rewarding part of this calling for him has been watching other people’s lives transform just like his.
“To see people come out of darkness and into the light, leaving stuff behind and seeing what God’s called them to be and seeing the joy and happiness in their life as they follow God … (is inspiring),” he says.
He’s grateful to be in a position to serve others and bless others’ lives through the weekly food giveaways and in other ways. He’d like to expand the size of the church to include a warehouse to host events and store food for giveaways in the future.