By Natalie Sarrett
“It was the first time in my life I thought I might actually die,” one NYC church planter fighting COVID-19 told us.
And, unfortunately, 20-30% of our partnering pastors in New York say the same thing. Many have been put on ventilators. Even more have had to self-isolate from their own families.
For obvious reasons, ministry in the Big Apple is more challenging than ever right now.
This same church planter, pastoring in the hard-hit neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, decided to start a regular food distribution in partnership with a local art studio that wanted to give back to their tightknit community. This collaboration made it possible for over 500 families to come and get food on a regular basis, and soon, lines had formed around the block at opening time.
Referencing Mr. Rogers, a father from this community commented, “In times like these, I always tell my daughter to look for the helpers and the good neighbors. If I were into religion, which I’m not, I would tell my daughter about this church. The folks over there are some of the best in the neighborhood, and I want to encourage people to join me in supporting them.” He even stuck around to volunteer!
Former fire medic and current coordinator for disaster relief in New York City, Jeremiah Brinkman, is responsible for many of these valuable partnerships with local churches. Because of former response efforts after national tragedies like Hurricane Sandy, Southern Baptists already have a good reputation with the local population, but COVID-19 has provided the opportunity for even more personal outreach efforts.
“The goal is to connect people with the resources needed to enable them to do the mission that’s before them,” Brinkman said. “The solution to this pandemic is not going to be a top-down, hierarchal response. It’s very much grassroots—from the bottom up. This is the time to get stuff done!”
And get work done, you did. In New York City alone, you helped Send Relief deliver over 32,500 meals to first responders, families in low-income neighborhoods and hospital workers—and that number is climbing every day! 40,000 pounds of non-perishables and groceries have been distributed. 850 medical kits were given out to local churches. Nearly 250 N95 masks were provided to hospitals experiencing life-threatening shortages. 8 churches are receiving Meals of Hope for their congregants on a weekly basis. And finally, 1,500 volunteer hours have been logged since these projects started.
Thanks to you, the art of neighboring is on the rise in New York City.
Volunteers did run into a problem, however, when distributing food boxes and meals in one neighborhood that’s home to “Diversity Square.” Many families who were in desperate need of emergency rations or hot meals were not able to participate in the distributions because of religious dietary restrictions. Especially during the month of Ramadan, there are specific guidelines, so our partners at Jackson Heights Community Church decided to show this overlooked community the love of Christ by serving over 100 meals to Muslim community members who were breaking their fasts for Iftar.
This was not just a food station on a sidewalk. This was, according to Brinkman, “a way to meet the relevant needs of the people around us by alleviating fear, food and financial insecurity and the repercussions of job losses. This is what our churches are engaging with: meeting physical needs to build meaningful relationships.”
That same neighborhood received more than 500 bags of food from a Nepali church and 150 food boxes from a faith-based food pantry—all contained rice, lentils, and other culturally appropriate meals for that community. One of the foreign exchange students that attended a distribution texted the overseeing pastor to say, “Thank you so much for providing us with food. I don’t know what we would have done. We didn’t know what to do. I’ve been able to share food with my friends only because you shared with me.” And this was the case for many exchange students in the area, as the school’s cafeterias are closed, and they do not qualify for food stamps.
We have been so encouraged by how you have rallied behind communities struggling to fight COVID-19, and Send Relief will continue to help vulnerable people at home and abroad cope with the repercussions of the pandemic.
Give to more valuable efforts like these at sendrelief.org/donate and pray for first responders and pastors as they minister to hurting families
Natalie Sarrett writes for Send Relief.