Hope Center ministers to the downtrodden

PALMETTO -- Promptly at 10 a.m. every Tuesday, as many as 200 people form a circle on a grassy field, join hands and pray for their community, and themselves.

It’s a diverse crowd representing many ages, ethnicities and linguistic groups. Some have no home. Many are unemployed, and don’t know where they will get their next meal.

But when they come to Hope Center at 1709 9th St. W., they know they will get a smile, an encouraging word, a bag of food and juice to take with them.

Herb Townsend, a 67-year-old retired contractor, said he felt the call to feed the hungry after coming out of a coma from a heart attack that nearly killed him when he was 54.

He asks the crowd to form into a circle, and to hold their neighbor’s hand.

Then he begins to pray:

“Thank you Lord for another day...”

Laura Moreno, a 25-year-old mother who volunteers by distributing diapers at Hope Center, repeats the prayer in Spanish: “Gracias Dios por un dia Mas.”

Townsend and Moreno continue to the end of the prayer, alternating verses first in English and then Spanish.

The 2-year-old ministry of New Beginnings Assembly of God has no shortage of clients, mostly from the Palmetto area.

“We were here at 7:20, and people were already here and waiting,” Townsend said.

Once they register, then pray, participants are called by number to get their supplies.

As they pass through the distribution center, Pat Molina invites each one -- in fluent English and Spanish -- to come to a church supper.

“I ask them why they come here, and they answer with different reasons,” Molina said. “I tell them the true reason is that they came is to meet God. He wants everybody to be one community.”

Her language skills help her relate to all who come to Hope Center.

“It’s a gift from God,” Molina said.

Molina, who did medical billing before she lost her job 15 months ago, says she now works for the “Great Physician.”

Alvin Griffin, a 50-year old unemployed native of Palmetto, said members of the church share faith, obedience and unconditional love.

Christians have to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, he said.

“A lot of things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial,” Griffin said.

The size of the crowd each Tuesday depends on how things are in the fields, and if people are working, Townsend said.

“So many of these people don’t have a job or a place to stay,” Moreno said.

Alvin Griffin quotes freely from the Bible, sharing his faith.

“My life is blessed. I haven’t had a job in a year, but the Lord has provided,” he said. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” he said, quoting from Psalms.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.