Under Over Fellowship has provided resources to homeless and people in need since it began as a Texas Baptist church plant nine years ago. Originally started in a park in downtown Conroe, the church is known for its feeding programs and homeless support programs. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, their mission has become even more essential as schools are closed, grocery stores are cleaned out and jobs have been cut.
The church’s feeding ministry has grown exponentially to better meet the new needs of the community. As of April 7, Under Over Fellowship staff and volunteers have taken over 6,000 pounds of food into low-income housing. Jerry Vineyard, lead pastor at Under Over Fellowship, explained that many of the people they minister to are either living on disability checks or participate in government work-programs, most of which have been halted as a result of the virus. The church has also expanded their ministry into more rural areas outside of the city of Conroe, as people in poor, rural communities often have difficulties accessing fresh foods.
“They don’t have access to grocery stores, they’re in food deserts and living off of corner stores. But we are able to provide fresh produce, meat, and other food to them,” Vineyard said.
One lady Vineyard brought food to explained that those in the rural communities also have a hard time accessing food pantries and free food drives because they live so far out of town. By the time news reaches them and they go into town, the supplies have often dwindled. So, having groceries available with healthy and fresh food is a huge blessing.
Under Over Fellowship volunteers also deliver meals to children who depend on school meals. Vineyard explained that, while schools offer feeding programs, those in Conroe only offer meals three days a week, which leaves families scrambling to provide for the additional days. Furthermore, families must be able to drive to campus to receive food. This is not possible for families without reliable transportation. Bringing the meals to the students guarantees that they get the food they need to remain healthy, and also provides church members with a chance to demonstrate Christ’s love to the families.
Under Over has partnered with Conroe Hispanic Baptist Church to delivers food to Hispanic families in need of assistance. They also bring food to Hispanic day-laborers, many of whom not getting jobs now, as no one is buying or remodeling homes amidst the economic instability.
Conroe Hispanic Baptist Church was planted by Under Over and meets in their building. Vineyard sees this church as a huge blessing to the community and an invaluable partner in ministry for Under Over.
“I really believe we’re going to see a huge harvest of Hispanic families in Conroe because of this work,” he said.
In order to keep volunteers and families safe, volunteers wear face masks and gloves when delivering food. They do not hand the food to people directly, and instead leave it on a table or at the doorstep. Furthermore, all volunteers are sprayed with a cleaning agent when they arrive back at the church’s campus.
“The majority of families depend on the schools to feed kids most of the time. Even with food stamps, they just don’t have enough,” Vineyard said. “Just today I had five families call, saying they can’t find food anywhere.”
Under Over Fellowship began in 2011 in downtown Conroe, where church-goers would gather in a park for a worship service followed by a lunch. This created a strong homeless congregation, who felt more comfortable in the park than in a formal church building. So, when the church obtained a building in 2014, they did not house church services there. Instead, they turned the church campus into Under Over Mission, a place where the homeless could come for laundry, showers and food. There is also a residential program to get people off the streets. Fifteen people receive housing and mentoring over a 6-month rehabilitation course. They also run the mission, learning how to follow in Christ’s example of service and selfless love.
Under Over Mission is still active amidst the COVID-19 crisis. They admit people daily to shower, eat and do laundry. Vineyard explained that people do not stop having needs during a pandemic, and so, rather than close down, the mission is taking extra precautions to keep everyone safe. When people come in, they are sprayed down with a cleaning agent, then taken to wash their hands thoroughly. They also check their temperatures before entering. Showers are bleached and cleaned with a hospital-grade cleaner in between people, and facilities are routinely wiped down.
“For the homeless to stay healthy, they need to stay clean. So we’ve been able to keep the showers and programs going,” Vineyard said. Giving them access to disinfectant and healthy food protects the homeless from getting sick, and can potentially curb the spread of the virus within the community.
The sheer numbers of food and disinfectant supplies the church is now going through has pushed the church’s resources to its limits.
“We’re in desperate need of resources here. We’re asking that churches consider partnering with Under Over Fellowship to help us keep the ministry going,” Vineyard said. “I’ve asked churches to look at their missions budgets, and if they have extra money, or money that was allocated to Spring Break mission trips that have now been canceled, to consider donating it to our ministry.”
Whether it be through food delivery or providing a safe place for the homeless, Under Over Fellowship’s main objective is to share the Gospel with as many people as they can. Vineyard explained that providing these essential services gives the church an opening to speak to many people who would normally not be open to Gospel conversations.
“We see this time as an opportunity to share the Gospel. And though we are being very careful, we understand that we are taking a risk, but we believe that the Gospel is worth it,” he said.
For more information about Under Over Fellowship and their ministry, contact Jerry Vineyard at firstname.lastname@example.org.