Pastor Shaw says the intentions of investors in the Pittsburgh neighborhood are to profit as much as possible. “If you change those intentions, then you could change the destiny of this community," he says. "That's it."
The busiest day at the New Pittsburgh Kingdom Doors Baptist Church isn’t Sunday–but Saturday.
That’s when the church in its white shotgun house in the middle of Southwest Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood opens a food pantry.
At 10 a.m., Pastor Anthony Shaw greets one of the first people to approach the church’s porch.
“Good morning,” he says. “What’s your first name again?”
On the table behind Shaw sit boxes of food — including fruits, vegetables and dairy products — he and volunteers have prepared to give out.
“We give them everything from the five food groups to condiments. You name it; we give it to them,” he says.
The food pantry has been Shaw’s project since he became pastor at the church three years ago. He says he realized the need in Pittsburgh, especially recently. The neighborhood, still marked with abandoned homes and vacant lots, has received new interest from investors because of its proximity to downtown and the Atlanta BeltLine.
“It’s desperate in this community. You see prostitution, and you see drugs, but the biggest problem is homelessness,” Shaw says.
The rising rents and home prices that come with the appreciating housing market are squeezing residents, he says.
So Shaw set out to make his church more than a place where people gather on Sunday. He wanted Kingdom Doors to be a community resource. He signed the church up to be a distributor for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
“We are very intentional,” he says.
But now, after developing that neighborhood resource over these last few years, the church is finding that it faces a similar challenge to the people it serves.
Its landlord filed for eviction last month. He wants to sell the property. Soon, Kingdom Doors will be homeless.
And with it, help for the community that forms each week on this narrow Pittsburgh street.
Shortly after the pantry opens at 10 a.m., a crowd begins to form in front of the church. People stand at a distance in the church yard, on the sidewalk and in the street.
Timothy Jones waits off to the side for his box of food. He’s spent half his life in Pittsburgh. His grandmother once lived in her own shotgun house on this street.
“So I remember sitting right in the front room, just looking at the TV as a kid,” he says.
That home is long gone, he says. These days, Jones doesn’t have a permanent place to stay.
He says he doesn’t want the neighborhood to lose the help from Kingdom Doors simply because Pittsburgh is changing and new people are buying renovated homes.
“That’s how they got here with the big houses: help,” Jones says. “So, we still need it.”
As families begin to receive their boxes of food, a woman named Amparo Goitia smiles from the churchyard, sitting in the motorized wheelchair that brought her here.
She’s been in Pittsburgh for 30 years. At one point, she was homeless. Now she rents a home a couple blocks away.
She says she couldn’t survive without Kingdom Doors.
“They take care of me with my medicines and stuff. They take care of anything I need in the house,” Goitia says. “For the first time in my life, my refrigerator is full.”
She’s 77, and her arthritis makes it difficult to move. So she says it was a struggle to get food. She could only shop at convenience stores with high prices.
Now Pastor Shaw and the church provide her with boxes including veggie burgers, fresh ginger and tortillas.
“And he done gave me a big ball of cheese with jalapeno in it. Oh my God, am I in love with that?” Goitia says.
She stays cheerful looking at the church’s small home. It’s cramped inside, she says. Maybe it’s time for a new place.
“I just pray that the church be near me,” Goitia says.
Throughout the morning, 12-year-old twin boys have been busy on the porch, helping with the food packages. They don’t stop until most of the families have been served.
Brian and Brandon come on their own to volunteer. There’s a photo of them inside, just baptized, with big grins on their faces.
They live with their grandmother down the road. They’re sure that Pastor Shaw will pick them up when the church moves.
“I hope they find a new location, like a good new location, and I pray for them,” Brandon says.
It’s hard for Kingdom Doors to find a new location, though.
Shaw’s father-in-law, who was pastor before him, had an agreement to afford its current house for the past eight years. The church only had to pay utilities and keep up the property, as the landlord’s realtor also points out.
Now the home and others in the neighborhood have become more valuable. Pastor Shaw has noticed as the church tries to move.
“There are vacant churches that we could acquire, but the pricing is high,” he says.
Shaw already doesn’t take a salary. He’s a volunteer pastor. And his members have given in pennies or out of their fixed incomes.
To Shaw, the experience of Kingdom Doors reflects what’s happening in Pittsburgh as a whole and the intentions of the investors and developers in this neighborhood.
“It is to make as much money off of it as possible. That’s what is being dictated right now,” Shaw says. “If you change those intentions, then you could change the destiny of this community. That’s it.”
By noon, about 40 families have picked up boxes of food from the Kingdom Doors pantry. And the block has emptied.
It’s still uncertain how many more Saturdays the church can open its food pantry on this Pittsburgh street. The church’s eviction is pending in Fulton County court.