Being the hands and feet of Christ in a pandemic through curbside delivery
While being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ can be difficult under normal circumstances, consider this challenge with state and national shelter-in-place mandates. When all hands and feet are ordered to stay at home, several Alabama-West Florida Conference United Methodist Churches have found innovative ways to partner with local authorities to provide food to those who need it most.
Community Life Church (CLC), Gulf Breeze UMC, Navarre UMC and St. Paul UMC have collectively pooled their resources to supplement what other agencies are doing. “The local school systems are doing an outstanding job of feeding families, but transportation is required to pick up those meals,” stated Rev. Jenn Lusher, CLC director of care ministry. “United Methodists in the Gulf Breeze and Navarre areas are meeting families where they are. Some children are home alone because parents are working and some families do not own cars. By delivering food we can fill in the gaps that other programs do not cover. We are also meeting the needs of families who do not have school-aged students. The power of our connection is phenomenal.”
A food request starts with Gulf Breeze UMC, who registers the student’s family and helps to access the need. CLC then receives the request and handles the delivery. Navarre UMC already had their “We Care Ministry” in place so some of the knowledge and expertise on this ministry existed. Rev. Christina Shaver at St. Paul UMC also assess the needs of her congregation and assists with publicizing this service. Gulf Breeze UMC, under the leadership of Dr. Dan Morris, is also assisting the elderly with their Methodist Meals program by continuing to deliver food to them while also taking on this additional food delivery service partnership. By churches using their existing structures, the program has been able to quickly take off.
Lusher noted that there is no guidebook for this. “The gulf coast is constantly training and preparing for hurricanes but nobody has a manual on how to safely feed thousands in a global health pandemic,” she said. To be compliant, all volunteer workers are not only practicing social distancing, they are taking temperatures each day; ensuring background and license checks are up to date; and ensuring stringent safety measures are in place to provide sanitary meals. “It is essential that we stay above board in all that we do to protect those we serve,” stated Rev. Scott Veroneau, CLC lead pastor. “We do not want to cut any corners just because we are responding to an emergency situation. To meet people where they are, we are loading up church buses full of food and therefore, we want those receiving these groceries
to know our volunteers can be trusted.”
The group has been classified as an essential service because of the amount of groceries they are providing to the underserved community. Lusher continued, “We have Piggly Wiggly, Panera Bread and other national food distributors backing trucks up to our church to help with our mission. When the shelter-in-place order was announced, we thought our services would end but instead, the local authorities realized how necessary our work was and has partnered with us to continue our ministry.” The volunteers provide food to make three meals a day for five days with no person-to-person contact.
In addition to grocery delivery, these trained and committed United Methodists have helped provide mental health phone and online counseling; home repairs; financial assistance; 24-hour phone prayer line; childcare resources, delivery and supply replenishment for elderly persons; diapers and clothing for children; foster care support and intentional mentoring and resourcing of single parents who have been laid off, to name a few.
Veroneau also referenced the AWF apportionment reduction and benefit exemption as a gift to this ministry. “The recent announcement by the conference has allowed us to immediately put more money into community ministry,” he said. “The leadership of our conference has made historic decisions that enable us to better serve those around us and I’m extremely grateful for this good news in an otherwise challenging time. This area relies heavily on the tourism industry and right now, it is all on hold. We have an opportunity to walk alongside people and help them through this crisis while doing everything possible to demonstrate and connect them to the love of Jesus.”
It is unknown how long this food delivery service will continue. “We sprang into action so fast we don’t even have a creative name for ourselves,” said Lusher. “But those are unimportant details at this time. Simply knowing we are spending our days serving others is all that matters in this pandemic. God’s faithfulness continues to sustain us and we will run on that energy and commitment as long as we are able.”