COVID-19 - The Invisible Virus in a Visible Community
Many years ago, my home church (St. James United Methodist Church), operated a food pantry (Open Arms) and we joined a coalition of pantries and participated in the annual Food for Families (FFF) Food drive in Temple, Texas. I had the privilege of representing our pantry in the planning and execution of this annual event until the pantry closed a few short years ago. It was during that time that I shared and experienced some of the most heartfelt moments of my life. This annual FFF event raises donations, collects food and has provided resources to hundreds of thousands of households in the Temple community over the last 30 + years.
The coalition now include four (4) local food pantries to include Love of Christ (LOC), St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP), Churches Touching Lives for Christ (CTLC) and Taylor’s Valley Baptist Church (TVBC) that came together to form Operation Feeding Temple. Love of Christ (LOC) is but one pantry in the group and has been operating and serving the community almost 29 years. They have existed through the times of Black Monday, the Dot- Com Crash, the recession of 2008 and now operate in the COVID-19 pandemic. They have continued to serve those in need in the community who to many are invisible. How fitting that we now face an “invisible” virus and have organizations, like LOC, that have been serving the people society often sees as “invisible” and making them a “visible priority” for almost 3 decades.
The effects on the economy due to the impact of COVID-19 has been widely publicized concerning the stock market, airlines, casinos, amusement parks, hotels, movie theaters, large corporations and the like. We have seen the spotlight on some of the larger players in this pandemic, however, the low-income families often referred to as the “working poor” become even more vulnerable in these trying times. In talking to A.C. Blunt, Director at LOC, they served appx 250+ families per week in the month of March which is more than double their norm. The most significant fact in those numbers is that about 50+ of those families served were first timers. So, the question you may ask is where did these new families come from? While it goes without saying there is a definite impact on the economy there is also a human tragedy being played out in front of our very eyes where the loss of income, for even one week in some cases, can lead to enormous stress (which leads to health concerns), food insecurity and possible homelessness. The people who seek assistance from the food pantries are not just the homeless. You see those in need have always included the hardworking people in our community…our neighbors, our relatives, our co-workers and friends, however, it was easier when those in need were thought to be only the faceless, nameless, homeless in our community.
The pandemic has placed a strain on many individuals, groups and organizations. However, non-profits like the food pantries of OFT are experiencing increases they couldn’t imagine a few months ago, and the supply and demand are obviously disproportionate. But these pantries band together, share resources and are a perfect example of what “community” should look like. Each pantry keeps their “doors open” in these times by providing drive-up services with the help of caring, thoughtful long-term volunteers. The amount of love and sense of community that grows from places like these pantries that are functioning with the sole purpose of helping others is truly heartwarming and beyond words.
One of the most popular phrases of the past few years has been, What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD) You can find WWJD on t-shirts, bracelets, coffee mugs and bumper stickers. When I speak to young people, I often talk with them about the importance and weight of words and phrases. We discuss the fact that we already know what Jesus will do and has done…the better question to ask is what will you do? Normally when we speak of supporting these organizations, we suggest volunteering, becoming a Partner, hosting a Food Drive and of course monetary donations, however, with the exception of monetary donations many of these options are not feasible in the world of social distancing and self-isolation. How or if you decide to support them…. only you can decide.
As we live into our “new normal” I am reminded that the Bible tells us the entire law can be fulfilled in keeping ONE command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Hebrews 13:1-2 (NIV). In these times where the only certain is uncertainty the goal of these faithful groups remains the same…...to serve those in need, those that are the most vulnerable and those in crisis.
So, I leave you with this question, will you “Love your neighbor and community as yourself?”
Darlene R. Alfred
Board Member, Operation Feeding Temple
Associate Lay Leader, Central Texas Conference United Methodist Church