"Hunger doesn't take a break at times like this." And neither does Second Harvest Heartland. For food bank workers like Allison O'Toole, the coronavirus is only part of the country's crisis. The other? Feeding struggling families and older people who don't want to leave their homes. But as the need intensifies, so are a lot of churches' efforts. And that's good news for everyone in these anxious times.
Despite the challenges, people like Cathy Maes of Minneapolis's Loaves & Fishes are determined. All day Thursday, she says, she was in "intense conversations" with 33 churches and community centers about how they can keep the ministry running. Finally, after several back-and-forths, they agreed: the public dining service would continue. They'd just be extra careful. "How bad would my heart feel if we stopped serving the people," Cathy said, on the verge of tears. "We have to feed them, because people need nourishment to be stronger in case they get the virus."
Like the other 300 food banks in Minnesota, Cathy's working overtime to make sure they have the food and volunteers they need. It hasn't been easy in a country where grocery shelves are bare and more restaurants are shutting down. "This is an extreme situation," agreed Dave Rudolph, "but we absolutely have to continue to be a lifeline."
In Alabama, that lifeline is taking on a different look. Birmingham's Church of the Highlands is opening up as an official state testing site, with help from the Jefferson County Public Department of Health. Even though the church itself was forced to stream Sunday services, Pastor Chris Hodges is still committed to supporting and caring for the community. "We're continuing to pray and believe God for health, healing, protection, and peace that passes all understanding."
Just because the dynamic has changed, Michelle Lantz said in Michigan, doesn't mean their mission has. Volunteers at Delta Presbyterian Church and other congregations are teaming up to store and distribute food now that school districts can't. Using a new drive-thru model, they've been able to bypass some of the issues and get pallets of food to families. Other teams are filling backpacks with food for students who don't have access to the public-school meals. And now that classes are postponed, they hope they could have more people in line to volunteer!
As for the church itself, a lot of pastors are seizing the moment to let their lights shine. "We need to hear God's word and worship with His people more than ever," Harvest Christian Fellowship's Greg Laurie said. And if there were ever a chance for the church to step up, Miles McPherson insisted, this is it. While people are frantic and looking for answers, the church is in the unique position of providing them. As God's people, we also have the opportunity to help and minister in ways that no one else can.
Maybe your state has advised that the church stop meeting in large numbers. That's understandable. But there are other ways for congregations to have an impact. Just because pastors can't preach to full pews in some places doesn't mean that they can't open the building for prayer or gather in smaller groups. It's time to think creatively about how we, as the church, can lean into this crisis and be the place of stability and calm that Americans desperately need. There are always ways for Christians to engage the community if we refuse to hunker down and shrink back.
For those who aren't working, this can be a time to serve those in high-risk categories who cannot or should not leave their homes. Churches should begin within their own congregations and then expand to the greater community in areas like assisting the elderly with grocery shopping or prescription pick-up. Prayerfully consider how you and your church family move forward.
This should go without saying, but please continue to support your local church with your tithes and offerings. If you don't have electronic banking, most church offices remain open, so please drop your contribution off with your church so that ministry can continue.
Above all, we need to be a source of strength and encouragement as I discuss in my message below.