As the world adjusted to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, and cities and towns across North America recognized how economic shutdowns and school closures have affected families to different degrees, local churches with established community ties have been in a position to help.
Community Hope, a nonprofit organization started by members of Lake City (Mich.) Christian Reformed Church, worked in partnership with Kids Hope USA to continue providing nutritious meals for students while not in school in Missaukee County, Mich.; Grace and Peace Church in Chicago, Ill., transformed their facility for food distribution to the Austin, Bellmont and Dalewood neighborhoods; and Silver Spring (Md.) CRC received part of its county's $1.2 million food access grants for work it has been doing to feed families affected by COVID-19.
Lake City, Mich.
Kids Hope is a “national mentoring program that matches one church with one school.” Lake City CRC has been a partner since 2014. This spring, mentors who had already developed relationships with children's families continued to provide an ongoing connection by dropping off pizzas for families or activity boxes for children.
To replace the school-based meal programs that help disadvantaged families, Community Hope and Kids Hope distributed food packs at five locations in their county once a week. School buses were used to transport food and to minimize health risks for workers and volunteers. “It’s an important and wonderful blessing to have a partnership with other organizations, particularly the school, so that the greater community can be served,” said Jennifer Pugh, director of Community Hope.
They plan to conclude the food pack deliveries in mid-June as summer programs within schools are anticipated to begin.
In Chicago at Grace and Peace Church, disaster relief and evangelism have always been pillars of the congregation’s community outreach. They have long-standing partnerships with Willow Creek Church, World Vision, and the mayor’s office, to name a few. Equipped with a loading dock in the back, they were able to repurpose their worship center to receive and then redistribute food on a large scale.
In a May 20 update video, Pastor John Zayas said, “(T)his has gone bigger than what we thought it would be.” He said while they originally focused on continuing to provide for the 400 families they usually serve through their food pantry, “and maybe a couple of extra folks,” they had by then given food boxes to more than 4,000 families.
“More doors are open to (the) community, people are cared for, and the church has come alive," said Zayas. “People see the church as relevant. The church is responding.”
Silver Spring, Md.
Since about mid-March members of Silver Spring (Md.) CRC have been running the church’s food pantry once a week instead of once a month.
“The number of households we serve has risen beyond dramatically,” said pastor Doug Bratt in a May 26 email to The Banner. “Two weeks ago we served 225. Last week we served 333. We have no idea what today will bring.”
The church, which has run the pantry for about seven years, received a grant from Montgomery County for $12,000 to expand food access this spring. Montgomery County Media reported that 38 community organizations, including Silver Spring CRC, were grant recipients.