December 18, 2012
The AIDS Food Store at Christ Chapel of Long Beach, Calif., has operated a free weekly or bimonthly food distribution program for 27 years to help persons with HIV/AIDS. Participants do not have to be church members to receive help. The store started in 1985 at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Members at Christ Chapel befriended and assisted persons with HIV/AIDS at a time when they were being shunned and ostracized by churches and the general public. Neighbors in the area even protested against the food store, but the church stood its ground.
The store began when food baskets were distributed to seven church members with AIDS who were too sick to work and could not support themselves. At first, the church started a weekly food distribution serving about 125 persons a week. People, including non-church goers, donated food and the congregation stocked the shelves. The demand was so great that the food store received its 501 C-3 nonprofit status in 1992. About six years ago, the food store, serving about 80 people, became bimonthly. According to Greg Thompson, head pastor, although the demand has dropped, the food store will continue. He vowed that as long as people are living with HIV and AIDS in their community, the church will maintain the food store.
Margo Martinez, a 75-year-old who began as a volunteer and is now the interim director, stated that they were "given a gift" to help individuals with HIV/AIDS. She noted that people needed help, and the members were not afraid. No one was turned away. She explained how much worse the disease got and that many people died. Martinez described how she first attended the church when it was located in a converted garage at the pastor's home, how friendly and welcoming people were, and how she became a member. She added that the church works primarily with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, who many times feel alienated or isolated from church because of people's attitudes toward them.