By Colleen Sparks
The physical buildings where people used to congregate for religious services have been closed but the heart of local churches and other faith-based organizations is beating strongly as its members serve residents in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
Parishioners, staff members and pastors are demonstrating their faith as they offer meals, household supplies and masks to anyone struggling or lacking these needed items. Many volunteers also are calling church members to check on their well-being as people continue to stay home in order to try to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. The public also may find spiritual inspiration through ministries and by watching services online and through video chats.
Cross Roads United Methodist Church at 7901 N. Central Ave. is seeing many more people come to its congregation for the Produce on Wheels With-Out Waste (P.O.W.W.O.W.) program. This Borderlands Produce Rescue program delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to people at sites around the Valley at huge discounts. Visitors may buy 70 pounds of produce for $12, said Kimberly Scott, senior pastor at Cross Roads United Methodist Church. Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, this program, offered one Saturday a month at the church, has seen about 430 families a month. That is about twice the number of families that ordinarily visit Cross Roads for the produce program.
“We’ve been doing it for about a year but the last two months have been the busiest that we’ve seen because of the pandemic,” Scott said in mid-May. “People have not been able to find as much fresh produce or it’s too expensive. The church was always supposed to be about these types of efforts, giving to the poor, making them our priority. Jesus was never stuck in temple. He was always out trying to heal people, feed them.”
The produce is done in a drive-through fashion to keep people safe and volunteers package all the food.
Cross Roads members and employees also have been holding donation drives for Chinle and Greasewood on the Navajo Nation, which has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. They have donated water, food, gloves, masks, diapers and hand sanitizer, Scott said. The church also has been providing batteries for thermometers, as well as masks, cleaning supplies and other items to Lura Turner Homes, Inc., a non-profit organization that offers adults with disabilities a family environment to help them reach their highest potential.
Ordinarily Cross Roads volunteers and staff members would visit UMOM New Day Centers, a non-profit organization that has a shelter and offers other help for struggling mothers, singles and families, to serve meals. Because of safety concerns due to COVID-19, Cross Roads has been donating money to UMOM. The church also has been providing meals to homeless families through Family Promise, a non-profit organization. Normally Cross Roads would house those families occasionally but it is not able to do that lately because of the pandemic.
To learn more about Cross Roads and the produce program and other services, visit crossroadsphx.com.
Volunteers and staff members at Living Streams Church at 7000 N. Central Ave. have been busy helping people struggling financially, as well as healthcare professionals and those who live alone.
The church has expanded the hours of its food pantry, which operates Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, to meet demand for non-perishable food, said Arthur Le, director of operations at Living Streams. It is available on the campus from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. while previously it was open from 10:45 a.m. to noon. Volunteers place the food in vehicles of recipients, who are thankful for the help during these tough times, Le said. About twice the number of people who ordinarily come for food at the pantry have been showing up since the pandemic.
“They’ve been super gracious and grateful,” Le said. “I would say it’s always been the heart of the church.”
Volunteers and staff members from Living Streams also have put together and brought boxes with instant coffee, thank you cards, pens, snacks, compression socks and other items to about 200 healthcare professionals at local hospitals, he added. The packages have gone to nurses and other staff members including janitors. A quilters group at Living Streams made masks that were given to healthcare workers and people in the community.
Living Streams also invites about eight to 10 homeless people to come to the church to use restrooms, charge phones, get water and watch the livestream of services. The rest of the public may watch the service delivered online. Living Streams pastors have been calling church members to see how they are doing and Bible studies and other groups have been meeting online through Zoom. A Living Streams church also offers prayer, transportation, technical help for online meetings, phone calls for friendly chats and other support for those who need it.
“Our mission is three things: to display God’s glory, to build courageous people and to engage in society’s pain,” Le said.
Beatitudes Church at 555 W. Glendale Ave. also is busy assisting its members and others in the community.
Members of the Beatitudes’ board of directors have been calling single and isolated church members every week to see how they are doing and help them feel connected, said Janelle Tapphorn, communications and pastoral assistant at the church.
Beatitudes also is keeping its Bishops Pantry open to anyone who needs food. It offers non-perishable food from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Bags of food are handed out to those who ring the bell at the front gate.
The Beatitudes Church’s Faith in Action ministry delivered food from the church’s food drive to the Interfaith Community Ministry (ICM) Food and Clothing bank to be distributed to people in need for Easter. While Beatitudes Church usually hosts homeless families for a week at a time on its campus, it could not do that this year due to COVID-19. But the families have instead been able to stay in day centers around the Valley and Beatitudes Church members have provided meals to them. The church also offers spiritual support through weekly online worship services and Zoom gatherings. To learn more about Beatitudes Church, visit beatitudeschurch.org.
First United Methodist Church of Phoenix at 5510 N. Central Ave. is also working hard to feed and otherwise support the community. It has expanded its food giveaway from once a week, on Fridays, to Mondays through Fridays. People may ring a doorbell, then someone brings them non-perishable food between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., office hours, said senior pastor Denny Silk.
“I know there are people that come every day,” Silk said. “They may be out of work.”
First United Methodist Church also opened up its school for parents who are workers in what was considered “essential” jobs during the pandemic. The teachers in the school wear masks and frequently sanitize their hands. This school serves youths from infant through age 4 years old.
Teams at the church are calling all members to help them stay tied to the congregation and see what they need.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Phoenix East Stake, recently donated hundreds of cases of diapers, baby wipes and baby formula to Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS). These items were delivered to the JFCS office on North 7th Street and were distributed to that organization’s Michael R. Zent Healthcare Center, East Valley Healthcare Center and West Valley Healthcare Center to be given to those centers’ clients. Also JFCS’ Shelter Without Walls, Real World Job Development and Homebased Services participants also will receive some of the donations.
“Baby products are always in high-demand and have been even more difficult to obtain during this pandemic,” said Gail Baer, vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. “We are grateful for their kindness and know the families that receive these items will be so appreciative.”
For more information about Jewish Family & Children’s Service, visit jfcsaz.org.
All Saints’ Episcopal Church & Day School at 6300 N. Central Ave. is helping people in various ways during the pandemic, said Rev. Emilie Finn, associate rector for Mission and Family Ministries. One way is its prison ministry group wrote messages in Mother’s Day cards it sent to women in Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville in Goodyear. The cards were very important because the inmates have not been able to see visitors now during the pandemic, Finn said.
She said All Saints’ Day School students conducted a virtual lemonade stand, where they collected food to be distributed to St. Mary’s Food Bank. Anyone who donated food received lemonade.
A pastoral team at All Saints’ usually visits people who live in senior care centers or who are shut-ins living in their own homes to bring them communion. Since these team members cannot visit them in person due to COVID-19, they have been calling to check on these residents.
Other All Saints’ groups have sewn masks for Banner Health professionals and Native American residents around the state.
“I think it’s the challenge of staying together as a community when we’re not gathering together in person,” Finn said. “I think we’re finding all kinds of creative ways to do that, which really makes me happy. Everybody has somebody who’s connecting them back to the community. It’s really important.”
For more information about All Saints’, visit allsaintsoncentral.org.