By Bonnie Mentel

Bell Shoals Baptist Church has a small house on its Brandon campus that was previously used as The Blessing Barn, a ministry that assisted families in need with food, small household repairs, and school supplies. The mission of The Blessing Barn has been revamped and the program is now called the Real Hope Ministry.

Henry Ward, Pastor of Care, came on staff at Bell Shoals Baptist Church last July. He was asked by Executive Pastor Gary Payne to find a vision for The Blessing Barn.

“What we’re doing is we’re starting out with a food pantry and other supplies, as in personal hygiene items. That’s where we’re starting and we’re going to let God develop it. If we have a family that needs clothes, we’ll give them a voucher and they’ll take that voucher to Lighthouse Ministries at the corner of Bryan and Brandon. They have a tremendous selection of items, more than we could ever have. The Lighthouse ministry will determine if the people qualify for the voucher,” Ward said.

Lighthouse Ministries, Inc., located in Lakeland, is a non-profit organization that has been serving the poor and homeless of West Central Florida since 1977. Lighthouse Ministries provides the food to Bell Shoals Baptist Church free of charge. They send about 100 boxes of food per shipment, as needed.

Ward explained how the partnership between Bell Shoals Baptist Church and Lighthouse Ministries was created. “I met with the director and told him what we were doing. He said that they had been praying for a church in the Brandon area that they could partner with for that ministry. It was the right place at the right time with God’s direction,” he said.

The Real Hope Ministry is located at 1917 Bell Shoals Rd. in Valrico. The ministry opened in February and it’s open to the public on Wednesdays from 12-2 p.m. The first week, eight families came to receive food and one person made a profession of faith. The next week they had nine families come, with one woman rededicating her life to the Lord.

“We have been averaging about 50 people per week. One week we had about 65. It’s gone a little bit faster than we thought it would,” Ward said.

The program has about 36 volunteers, who are called Encouragers. When visitors arrive on site, one of the Encouragers goes out to the yard and greets them. Then they bring the person/family in to watch a 3-minute video from Senior Pastor Stephen Rummage highlighting the ministry and the plan of salvation. After the video, the Encourager helps the person fill out an application while asking them about their spiritual life. If a decision for Christ is made, materials on how to grow as a Christian will be given to them on their next visit. The ministry is also in the process of completing a Spanish video.

For questions about the Real Hope Ministry, contact Shawn Moser at 689-4229 ext. 231.

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