Even though most church buildings are temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, many pastors and members are busier than ever. Church leaders and volunteers throughout America are stepping up to serve their communities during a fearful time of unprecedented disruptions and long-term lockdowns. These churches are showing the world what it means to be the church.
At the outset, many congregations are providing food to schoolchildren, assisting homeless people, and coordinating with local relief agencies. And they’re emphasizing safety at every step, following advice about social distancing and reducing exposure.
Be the Church: Fill the Gap for Hungry Students
With many school districts shutting down or switching to remote learning, food insecurity has become a widespread concern. To ensure that students don’t go hungry while cafeterias are closed, churches are providing grab-and-go meals—sometimes partnering with the efforts of public school districts.
In Janesville, Wisconsin, for example, volunteers at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School prepared 500 lunches for Monday morning. For families who couldn’t drive by for pickup, “Kindness Karavan” driver made deliveries. Federal law prohibits schools from delivering food to students, so district officials say they’re grateful for assistance from faith-based groups. The meals from St. Paul’s have been a stop-gap measure while the Janesville School District sets up its own grab-and-go lunch program.
St. Paul’s Principal Rob Lunak says, “We teach children that we are created, loved, and redeemed by God. What we do for others is an expression of that love.”
Churches in some communities are collaborating, offering sack meals on a rotating basis. Jack Osteen, pastor of Leesville First Assembly Church in Leesville, Louisiana, says about 70 percent of area children rely on free-or-reduced lunch at school. As president of a local ministerial alliance, he’s rallying volunteers to meet needs. “We just want to provide meals every day throughout the week,” he says. “Simply come through the drive-thru and tell us how many kids” are in your home.
Be the Church: Stock Food Pantries
For families in need, churches are organizing food drives and trying to keep shelves full at local food pantries, despite panic-buying in many grocery and big-box stores.
Kate Lombardo, who helps run a Connecticut food bank, tells CNN, “It’s just frightening for people who live hand to mouth on a daily basis. There’s already a stress factor of poverty, let alone the additional stress coming from a pandemic.”
Through its food pantry, Grace Church in Noblesville, Indiana, expects to feed 600 families this week. People who need groceries can order online, and then volunteers deliver items to cars. Keith Carlson, executive director of Grace Care Center Foundation, says, “We’re trying to make it as seamless as possible and as easy as possible and yet limit any kind of interaction so that we don’t expose more people and keep people safe.”
At Casa de Dios Christian Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, volunteers are distributing free produce in conjunction with a local food bank. Deliveries are brought out to people’s cars as they drive by, to minimize person-to-person contact.
Be the Church: Reach Out to Homeless Neighbors
Some churches that normally welcome homeless people to their facilities for meals are now making deliveries to various locations. In San Antonio, ending meal services isn’t an option, according to Gavin Rogers, pastor of Travis Park Church. The church typically assists between 400 and 600 homeless people each week, he says, “through medical clinics, through hot meals, clothes, and showers.”
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, creativity has become necessary for some of these outreach efforts—and for some of the menus. Travis Park’s Corazón Ministries is using an “ice cream truck” approach to meal delivery, says kitchen manager and chef John Chadwell. “We’re going to a park for a little bit, handing out some food, going to another park handing out food, checking on folks.”