d-MinOut-HowLaunchWhat better time than a recession to pool your resources and minister to the needy?

It started with a bag of groceries to meet a serious need in our community. From there, our benevolence requests went from six a day to more than 40 a day, and 15 percent of our congregation were out of work. At the peak of the economic recession, our community was hurting and needed real assistance. In response, Saddleback Church launched a food pantry.

People came to our doors the first day we opened them. Today we have fed more than 80,000 people in south Orange County, Calif. Our Food Pantry provides fresh and nonperishable grocery items to families in the community. Pick-ups are available once every 30 days and walk-ins are welcome on select days and times every week.

Within two years, our pantry turned into The PEACE Center, where we also provide free legal aid, immigration help, tutoring clubs, ESL (English as a second language) classes, medical services and many more services.

And the most amazing part is that more than 1,600 people have given their lives to Jesus because of the work done through the center. People come not just with hungry stomachs but with hungry hearts as well.

Jesus said in Mark 9:41, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name ... will by no means lose his reward” (NKJV). Everything we do centers on providing practical help and connection to the church and sharing the hope of Jesus Christ. If you want to start a PEACE Center in your church, you first need to have senior leadership support. When your leaders are behind you, these simple steps will help you launch a center for your community:

Leverage space.We started our food pantry in a room that was used for storage. As we grew, we converted unused doublewide trailers into The PEACE Center. Just about every church has buildings sitting empty six days a week. Do you have a building or room (or rooms) that can be repurposed during the week for your PEACE Center?

Acquire partners.When we launched our food pantry, our congregation responded by donating 53,000 pounds of food. Today more than 70 percent of our food comes from outside the church. The needs of the community quickly outgrew what our people could support through food drives, so we developed outside strategic partners who could donate food to us weekly. 

We also have partnered with a local medical clinic in order to open up a clinic of our own.

Assess needs. Identify the greatest needs in your community. Our greatest needs are hunger, legal aid, immigration, counseling, education and medical assistance. We determined to focus strictly on our local giants.

Nurture volunteers.Empower your people to serve. The PEACE Center runs on volunteers. We couldn’t do what we do without them. Each month hundreds of volunteers give us more than 3,400 hours of service.

Create teams.We have lawyers who oversee our legal-aid ministry, teachers who oversee the tutoring ministry and doctors who oversee the medical clinic. You don’t have to be the expert in every ministry. Just find experts who will join your team.

Trust God.The saying, “Where God guides, He provides,” is true. We didn’t know how to do a food pantry for thousands of people, but God sent a VP from a major grocery store chain to teach us. At one point we were running out of food, and God sent a financial donor to buy food every month. There are hundreds of stories about God’s guidance and provision for our center. Trust the Holy Spirit to bring what you need, when you need it.

Any church, regardless of size, can have a PEACE Center. We had no budget or personnel devoted to this ministry when we started. We began with a bag of groceries that turned into a food pantry that turned into The PEACE Center. Now, people every day are finding the hope they need in Jesus Christ.


Tommy Hilliker serves as the Membership Pastor at Saddleback Church, where he has been on staff for 10 years. He oversees 28 ministries including baptism, CLASS, membership, food pantry, support groups, counseling and The PEACE Center.

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