The line that forms Saturday mornings outside The Father’s Heart Ministries stretches farther than it used to—in part because of a rising number of first-time guests at the soup kitchen in Manhattan’s East Village, and in part because masked patrons stand safely distant from one another.

With the highest unemployment numbers since the Great Depression, food pantries across America are experiencing an average of more than 50 percent growth in attendance, with two in every five people seeking assistance for the first time.

But also growing at ministries like The Father’s Heart is the number of volunteers who want to serve. In an era when many food pantries and soup kitchens are suspending services due to coronavirus-related precautions, the volunteers have kept the 22-year-old food program operating out of the historic brick-and-stone church building that houses it. In fact, there’s a waitlist to serve there.

Churches have long played a critical role in America’s food pantry network, particularly in areas with glaring hunger needs. And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re continuing to do what they’ve always done—now with the help of a new wave of volunteers, particularly younger ones who find themselves home from school and work, according to Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty at Baylor University.

“A part of our faith tradition is to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Everett said. “If you have a church community, and maybe some of the traditional volunteers that don’t feel like it’s safe to volunteer, that elicits other people to step up.”

Marian Hutchins is the executive director of The Father’s ...

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