When Maureen Hinds celebrates her birthday on January 15, her husband, Cy, won't be taking her to any swank Los Angeles restaurant. Instead, the couple will make 100 sandwiches, pack 100 cans of soda, and haul 100 candy bars to distribute to the homeless on skid row. Maureen and Cy, who have been married 48 years, celebrate their anniversary every July the same way. There are no gift exchanges, just ministry to the hungry.
Maureen, a retired nurse, and Cy, a retired physician's assistant, have attended Covina (California) Assembly of God since 1986. For the past 14 years, Maureen has volunteered 20 hours a week at the church to lead a feeding ministry. The food bank started in an usher's room by helping 10 people; now groceries are distributed to feed more than 1,500 people a month.
Covina Assembly is in the process of forming a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation so that the food bank and other outreach ministries of the church will be able to qualify for funding beyond what the church can provide.
Hinds says she developed a heart for the hungry because of her generous parents.
"Although we weren't rich, my mom and dad fed eight kids at home and anybody else who came through the door," Hinds recalls. "I decided when I got on my own I would do that too."
Maureen and Cy both are natives of Guyana. They met while working at a New York hospital. Maureen moved to the United States as a teenager with her father's appointment as an ambassador.
Today, Hinds leads the food bank, one of the care ministries under the Economic Relief Center umbrella at Covina Assembly of God, which has an average Sunday morning attendance of 1,930. Grocery recipients include church members and the unchurched. The ministry fits the Covina Assembly vision to make a difference in the community outside the church's four walls.
Sandy Futter, who is director of the church's Economic Relief Center, has worked closely with Hinds for five years. She says providing food to those who need it is a perfect fit for Hinds.
"She is a very giving person," Futter says. "She would give you the shirt off her back."
Futter says that Hinds is a hands-on ministry director, not just overseeing the logistics but also getting involved in the details.
Every Tuesday at 4:30 a.m., Hinds is at the church to organize the delivery of 4,400 pounds of donated food from the Los Angeles downtown food bank. Three volunteers load a truck with meat, canned goods, vegetables, bread, pastries, milk and juices. Once the truck arrives at the church, eight people help sort the food into bags until 10 a.m.
In all, Hinds has recruited 16 hardworking volunteers to minister in the name of Christ. She also is at the church two hours Tuesday through Friday afternoons when food is given away.
The food bank serves primarily Hispanic residents in the communities of Covina, West Covina, Azusa, San Dimas, Baldwin Park, La Puente and Glendora. Those who live elsewhere still receive groceries on their first visit, but they are given a flier to direct them to a food bank closer to home.
"We never turn anyone away," Hinds says.
To be eligible for repeated visits, recipients must fill out information regarding residency and family. Bigger households qualify for larger amounts of provisions.
No matter how she is feeling, Hinds makes sure her countenance is upbeat. She believes it is especially important to convey a welcoming warmth to first-time clients in order to remove the stigma some may associate with asking for free food. Some beneficiaries, particularly those who recently have lost jobs, feel shame in seeking assistance, she says.
"If I have a frown on my face, they will see it," Hinds says. "I don't know what is on the client's mind. I'm not saying I don't get discouraged, but I can't show it to them."
In addition to the hours she puts in at the food bank, Hinds also scours local grocery stores and restaurants for free, fresh food that managers will donate. The church also supplies Hinds with a small budget to purchase on-sale food items for the distribution site.
In her spare time, Hinds also works elsewhere in the church, including cooking in the kitchen for funerals, ushering in the sanctuary for church services, and teaching in children's ministry.
The efforts Hinds puts into volunteering have garnered the admiration of Covina AG Lead Pastor John E. Johnson.
"She's probably the greatest example we have of what servanthood is all about," Johnson says. "She exemplifies what it means to give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus. She does it with the spirit of Christ: She is kind, humble, caring and compassionate."
Johnson, who has been on the church staff for 13 years, says Hinds gains the trust of people because of her concern. Subsequently, area residents aren't afraid to ask for help with groceries, which enables them to free up money to pay their rent or utility bills.
"She is touching people I could never touch," Johnson says. "These are really hurting people who have been hard pressed because of the economy. Without this help, they wouldn't make it."
Hinds says she doesn't grow weary in doing good. She says a smiling face and a "thank you" from a client are motivation enough.
"I haven't seen her enthusiasm wane," Futter says. She commends Hinds for being innovative in trying to ensure people have enough food. For instance, Futter notes Hinds established a special section of foods for the homeless because they typically don't have a can opener in their possession.
The State of California recognized Hinds in March as its "2012 Woman of the Year." Hinds received a plaque and luncheon at the capitol in Sacramento for her efforts, and was selected over 79 other volunteer honorees from around the state.
"I will continue to do this as long as I have breath," Hinds says. "I love the Lord and will continue to serve Him."
Author: John W. Kennedy, Pentecostal Evangel