Representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) visited the Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) on Sept. 29 to see how the ministry provides meals to food-insecure students on campus.
BSM Director Robert Rueda worked with university officials to coordinate the visit, which included a demonstration of the drive-through food delivery system at the BSM where individuals pre-registered for boxes of produce. During the demonstration, they provided food to 177 university students and faculty members.
At the beginning of 2020, the BSM entered into a partnership with the university to help meet the nutritional needs of students. Rueda shared that only God knew how important the relationship would be once the pandemic hit and the scarcity of food and that resources for students would be impacted far greater than anyone imagined. Since the pandemic hit, more than 12,000 students have received food through the BSM.
The university provided funds for 10 work-study students to work at the BSM each week and assemble the produce boxes. Additionally, a faculty member prepares meals each week at the BSM with the food in the boxes and creates recipes and instructional videos for students on ways to use the produce. The boxes are typically distributed on Fridays through a drive-through line at the BSM.
As the USDA officials heard from students about the food program, they asked what motivated the students to give their time to help others.
“Our students said they do this because of Jesus and the power he has to transform lives,” Rueda said. “To have officials and university leaders hear testimonies from our students about their faith was incredible.”
In Rueda’s 16 years of ministry on the UTRGV campus, he has never before seen the level of access to university leaders and community partners that he has now.
“It’s so important that society is opening doors and coming through us to help others,” Rueda said. “That’s really neat that we are able to do that and serve. For us it’s about praying with students, sharing the Gospel with them and mobilizing them. Our students are looking for an outlet to serve.”
Currently, the BSM is one of the only student organizations on campus that is able to meet, since the services they provide meet a specific need for the student body. Through the BSM Global Blends deli, students are able to pre-order meals and drive through to pick them up. The deli provides meals on a pay-what-you-can basis, so students do not need to worry if they do not have enough money to cover the meal. They just donate what they can for the food.
As students receive meals and produce boxes, BSM students pray with them and give Bibles when requested. During the week, the BSM also provides free lunch, hosts an outdoor worship service on Thursday evenings and equips students to share their faith with others on a daily basis.
Throughout the fall semester, BSM students have been surveying fellow classmates about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and their families. Students have responded that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on their financial situations, with more than 50 percent who reported a loss or furlough of jobs. At the end of the survey, each student is asked if he or she would like to learn more about God, and 65 percent have responded ‘yes.’ This has provided an open door for Gospel conversations.
Despite the many challenges presented during the pandemic, Rueda has seen God provide many open doors for creative approaches to ministry and new opportunities to reach a campus in need of the Gospel.