For many, gumbo is a stew that originated in southern Louisiana, but for First Baptist Church of Riverside, it is an acronym for something greater: God Using Meals to Bless Others.
What started years ago as a men’s cooking class eventually turned into a ministry that consists of cooking and trekking the streets of Riverside to feed and bring the word of Jesus to the homeless community.
GUMBO is a volunteer effort in which many people from around Riverside take part — including students at California Baptist University.
Hannah Sturgis, junior psychology major, said she first started volunteering with GUMBO when she was a freshman and began doing it because she has always had a heart for the homeless and thought GUMBO was a good way to minister to them.
“I enjoyed hearing their stories and what they have been through and just being able to talk to them,” Sturgis said. “I could tell it meant a lot we were taking the time to get to know them and listen to them.”
Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., volunteers come in and start the process by cooking the food, packaging and sending it off at 8 p.m. A group of drivers then take the food out and hit the streets to minister until later that night.
“As volunteers come, we make cookies and we make juice and coffee and we put together boxes of our supplies in it,” said Annabel Koher, CBU alumna and volunteer.
Koher said there are five routes each week each volunteer drives through and with which the homeless are familiar.
As much as GUMBO has an impact on the homeless community, Koher said there is also an impact this volunteer work has on the volunteers, as well.
“(Volunteering) through many different ways, it’s the struggle of realizing we can’t do something for every single person and we just have to pray, and for others it’s going through hard things and realizing there is really tough stuff out there in the world,” Koher said.
For Pastor Tim Mellinger, GUMBO is about making connections and getting the homeless community involved.
While out on routes, Mellinger not only serves the people on his routes with food, but takes the time to talk and get to know the people, if he does not know them already. In some cases he will even pull out his Bible and and have spiritual conversations with those who are willing to engage.
“We really want to increase the people’s capacity to hope and believe in God’s dreams for their lives,” Mellinger said.
For anyone who wants to get involved in GUMBO, people are free to show up at First Baptist Church of Riverside on any Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 6 a.m.