Salt Lake County – The Baptist Concern Center sits 10 minutes from downtown SLC, provides food for the needy, and so much more.
There are Bible studies, English as a Second Language classes – during which youngsters have their own Bible study – and a supportive environment where the people who come feel respected, cared about, and listened to.
It’s a ministry started 54 years ago by the Salt Lake Baptist Association. It’s also a ministry new nearly every day when people come for help who find out about it from friends, flyers, and state-supplied lists of helping entities.
“We share Jesus whenever we can,” Director Sonia Gutierrez told UI Connections. “We tell them they can have a change in their lives, and we love to see how God changes their life.”
Dora Pineda was one such person. Gutierrez has watched God change Pineda’s life. She first came for food. Gutierrez befriended her, and in time Pineda called begging for help of a different kind.
“She was going through difficult things,” Gutierrez said, diplomatic in her words despite the unvarnished testimony Pineda gave at the recent semi-annual meeting of the Salt Lake Baptist Association.
“I told Sonia, ‘Please don’t leave me alone. I don’t know how to get out of this,’” Pineda told UI Connections, as translated by Gutierrez.
Together the two Spanish-speaking women prayed to God for His help as Pineda grew in her trust in God and within four months became freed from her drug addiction.
“Now she comes every day,” Gutierrez said. “She asked if she could help, and I saw she was very honest.”
Volunteers are essential to the Baptist Concern Center’s ministry: people to move boxes from the parking lot to the nearly 5,000-square-foot building; to unpack the boxes inside the storage room; to do the shopping; to talk with clients when they first arrive, and to clean up inside and out at the end of each workday. There is also a need for someone to pick up “rescue groceries” from places not on the Utah Food Bank’s routes.
Donations of food, diapers, and home cleaning supplies also are needed, as is financial support for needed items that are not donated. This year the Baptist Concern Center served about 25,000 people.
In addition to helping shelve food as it is unloaded from a Utah Food Bank truck – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays it’s rescue groceries and baked goods from area grocers; canned food, dried food products such as rice and beans, produce and dairy items come in on Fridays – Pineda and other volunteers shop for those who come to the Baptist Concern Center between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays; and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
“We still need more volunteers every day, because every day we have a lot of work,” Gutierrez said.
The Concern Center’s food distribution process is simple and effective: People wanting food can come once a month (more often if there’s an emergency) to 1235 California Avenue – the lettering on the 1300 South side of the one-story white stucco and cinder block building says “Esperanza Viva” (Living Hope.)
Clients this year have come from Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Utah, and elsewhere.
“Yes, we give food, but that’s not all,” Gutierrez said. “We are showing and sharing the love of Jesus in everything we do, every way we can.”
The clients are given a gospel message when they first come into the Baptist Concern Center. They fill out or update their application form required by the Utah Food Bank, after which they are given a ticket number. That number, along with their name and the number of people in the family, and the vehicle (which might say “bike,” “stroller” or even “walking”) is written on a square post-it note and stuck to the designated wall in the storage area.
Volunteer shoppers take the post-it notes and start filling a shopping cart with the quantity of food needed for that size family. While the shoppers are working in the storage room, the intended recipients sit on plastic chairs in the waiting room or wander around several tables on which are various brochures that might be of interest, as well as gospel tracts, and even a table of cookbooks and “healthy eating” resources.
When their name is called, if not before, the clients go back outside to their vehicle, where the shopper meets them, calling out their number while looking for the vehicle. After the client hands the shopper their number (to help make sure clients get their own order and not that of someone else with the same name) they load their vehicle while engaging in conversation with the shopper. At the Holy Spirit’s leading, those conversations turn into divine appointments.
At least 70 and up to 80 or more people come to the Baptist Concern Center Monday evenings and Saturday mornings. ESL classes start at 4 p.m. every Sunday, and the Bible Study starts at 5 p.m. Sunday
“Some who come here also come to our church,” Gutierrez said, referring to Canyons Church in Salt Lake City, where her husband, Rafael Gutierrez, is the Hispanic pastor. “We have people coming here from Salt Lake City, West Valley City, West Jordan, Kearns, Midvale, and other towns in Salt Lake County.”
Pineda is one of nine who have made a profession of faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior through their connection with the Baptist Concern Center this year. This includes Pineda’s husband.
“Rafael led him to the Lord,” Gutierrez said of her husband and Dora Pineda’s husband. “Dora loves to study the Bible. She loves to pray. She loves to learn about Jesus.”
Again, translated by Gutierrez, Dora Pineda said, “I want to tell everybody about Jesus. Jesus changed my life.”
That change started with food freely given by the Concern Center and those who help support it.
By Karen L. Willoughby
A frequent contributor to UI Connections and Baptist Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org