Hammond minister thanks Rev. Jackson for holiday food

Gas explosion destroyed food pantry

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REV. JOSEPH ALFORD, senior pastor of the Bethel Church of God in Christ, talks to the media about the gas explosion that destroyed their Hammond, Indiana church on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.

By Chinta Strausberg, Gary Crusader

A Hammond, Indiana minister whose food pantry, kitchen and dining areas were destroyed due to a gas explosion, thanked Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. for sharing Thanksgiving food items with his parishioners.

Rev. Joseph Alford, senior pastor of the Bethel Church of God in Christ, said he is doubly blessed because no one died in that explosion.

Only one person, church deacon Craig Williams, who remains in the hospital, was in the building at the time of the explosion. He is recovering from second-degree burns. The church, which is separated from the dining facility by an alley, was not affected by the explosion.

Alford made his remarks during a press conference held over the weekend with Rev. Jackson and his supporters. The gas explosion prevented Alford from feeding more than 150 people who were depending on his annual holiday gifts. He turned to Rev. Jackson who invited him to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition

Along with a number of veterans and families, Rev. Jackson shared his Thanksgiving food with Rev. Alford and his wife, Norma, then sent them home with enough food to feed more than 150 people. “I thank God for Rev Jackson,” said Alford. “He’s always reaching out ….”

Alford said, “Thank God for having a man like Rev. Jackson that is standing point, standing tall and willing to help the community no matter where it is. It has nothing to do with color or race. He’s just a man who wants to help the community itself and we thank God for his support.”

When asked his reaction to the gas explosion, Rev. Alford said, “I am totally devastated by the explosion that we experienced, but I am also thankful that all that we basically lost was the building and the food that was there.

“Thank God for sparing my deacon. He was on the job opening up the church, getting ready to have choir rehearsal. I am thanking God that he got in at the time that he did. Had he not, then it would have possibly been 10 to 20 people that would have been killed, hurt or injured in that incident, so we thank God for that.”

Asked about the condition of his deacon, Alford said, “Deacon Williams is doing tremendously well. He recently came out of a coma, while I was there; so he should be talking now. His hands and arms have second-degree burns on them, but everything looks good. We are upbeat about his recovery,” he said.

He added that “right now my heart is with the situation with my deacon. That is my responsibility right now, to make sure that he is stable and is able to recover and get back on his job serving the Lord 110 percent.”

Asked about how the church explosion impacted the community, Alford said the food pantry would be down in that area, where the church was serving anywhere from 500 to 800 people per month. The explosion was devastating to the community because not only will the food pantry not be there, nor will the kitchen be open to serve meals.

“We’re praying that we have a speedy recovery and that the insurance company will not give us a great big hassle. Let’s get the building back up and serve the community.”

Asked about the holidays and what happened, Alford said, “None of the feeding of residents was done. There was no food to be given out. We’re saddened.” He would have served from 100-150 people during the Thanksgiving holiday had the gas explosion not occurred.

Alford said he is hoping his building will be rebuilt within a year. “You know construction. Going into the winter, it always depends on the weather. As soon as we get the OK we will finish demolishing the building and then start rebuilding the building. As soon as it is open we will be back on point, doing what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years.”

In the interim Alford hopes to turn the basement of his church into a serving area. “If we can get the freezers in the storage areas, then we can start using the church within a month, but we need freezers, tables, things like that where we can store the food.”

Asked what was destroyed, Rev. Alford said, “The pantry, and kitchen were destroyed, and also the dining area where we served people.”

When asked if the community is devastated by this, Alford said he does feel “they are devastated. All the ones I’ve seen walking by there, none of the heads are lifted up. No one is rejoicing. All heads are down. The community is saddened.”

Alford said currently he does not have any “manner of feeding or serving food; therefore, we need help to get back on point, where we were, so we can do what we got to do for the community where we’ve been for over 25 years.”

To the community, his message was clear, “Community, let’s come together, stay together, let’s pray and give the support that you can, to help resurrect the building.”

This is not the first time Rev. Alford has had a brush with disaster. Three years ago almost to the day, a tornado barreled down on Hammond, striking his church and destroying the North and West walls of the church. It also damaged the church roof.

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