HOLLYWOOD — Pastor Gary Tibbs, 71, is a man with a sense of humor.
“Every morning when I open my eyes, I check my pulse. If I’ve got one, I know it’s going to be a good day!” he says.
For him, it also means it will be a day of service to his Hollywood community.
Tibbs has been pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Hollywood since 1984. That is quite a success story in itself. Very few pastors stay at one church for 35 years.
Part of that longevity has to do with his philosophy of ministry — you open your arms wide and gratefully accept whatever God gives you ... and then you turn right around and give it away!
First Southern is known for its food ministry to the homeless, the underserved, the low income and any others who need food.
Though Hollywood’s reputation speaks of wealth and glamour, Tibbs said there is much poverty in the city.
“There are a lot of homeless people and elderly people on fixed incomes here,” he explained. “For a lot of people, the food we distribute is what lets them eat through the end of the month.”
Tibbs said the church had a heart for feeding people as far back as the 1990’s.
“We tried to start a feeding ministry back then,” he said, “but it just didn’t work for us. Honestly, it was a disaster! I guess the timing wasn’t right. God had to prepare us more.
“We began the food ministry again in 2008. I can’t believe it has been 11 years now!”
The effort now is under the leadership of church member John Henyard.
Their ministry happens weekly on Monday morning and Friday evening. They work in conjunction with the Hollywood Food Bank to connect with local grocery stores and distribute government agency food. The church picks up donated items from grocery stores on Sunday night and distributes it on Monday morning.
Tibbs said they distribute food on Mondays to 40-60 people; on Fridays they serve 100-150.
“The grocery stores are generous,” Tibbs added. “A lot of what we get are perishables and already prepared items like dairy, eggs, sandwiches, salads, pastries and lots of bread. But we get other things too. We get some fresh produce. We get fresh meats, but we put that in our freezer and only distribute that on Friday.”
The items are given out to anyone who needs food, no questions asked, no sign-in required.
One Saturday a month, they distribute non-perishables like canned food, rice and dried beans supplied by government agencies to the food bank. For these foodstuffs, a signature and address are required by those who take the food.
Once a month, church members prepare hot meals and deliver them to people around Los Angeles County. This includes some church members, as well as others who might need a meal.
For many of their homeless friends, these may be the only days they get food, Tibbs noted.
Across the street from the church is an elementary school with a lot of low-income students. One year at Thanksgiving, the church received several turkeys from the food bank, with the stipulation that they go to especially needy people.
“I called the school principal and asked him if there were some needy families who he thought needed the turkeys,” Tibbs said. “We were able to supply six families with turkeys. I got thank you notes from two of the children. One said his family had never had a turkey — ever! Can you believe that? They’d never had a turkey.
“I forwarded that letter on to the food bank.
“We take so much for granted, don’t we? Imagine never having had a turkey.
“We are not a large or a wealthy church by any means,” Tibbs said. “We are just available to serve. I really believe if we tried to store up — or hoard — the food we are given, God would stop supplying it to us. As long as we stay open to be a pipeline for hungry people, I believe He will keep using us.
“I see it as God blessing us so we can bless others.”