Churches Address Needs of the Underserved: Give Away $100K in New Clothes, and Provide Food to Homeless
By Lindsay Peyton
The lockdown did not stop United Methodists in Houston from giving back during the pandemic. In fact, churches stepped up to serve an even greater need in their communities. Bering UMC, Houston volunteers assisted with food distribution and found innovative solutions to help others. Boynton Chapel UMC, Houston members have spent the past couple of weeks distributing clothing to its neighbors in the Third Ward.
Boynton Chapel UMC distributes clothing
Boynton Chapel UMC pastor Rev. Linda Davis received a call from frequent collaborator Change Happens! a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of families and children. Boxes of children’s clothing were available, donated from the Children’s Place, if the church could pick them up.
Serendipitously, Davis’ husband had the day off from work, and his truck was available. “It truly was a God moment,” she said.
The community surrounding the church is home to a number of children, the pastor explained, and many of them are in an underserved population.
After picking up the donation, Davis and church volunteers opened the boxes to discover an unexpected surprise. “There might be 20 or 30 dresses in a box,” she said. “They were all beautiful, brand-new clothes with the tags still on.”
There were suits, ties, shoes, purses and hair accessories. Davis estimates the donation’s value to be somewhere near $100,000. “We got clothes from 6 months to size 16 for girls and boys,” she added.
She started calling around in the community and announced that the “Store” would be held in church. Customers could come, staying socially distanced, and shop for a couple of outfits for each child. All of the volunteers wore masks and gloves and handed them out to the shoppers as well.
By the second day of the giveaway, there was a line. “There were just so many people,” Davis recalled.
On the third day, Davis called Blackshear Elementary to let parents know. “Everyone was excited and overjoyed,” the pastor said.
One woman cried tears of joy as she picked out dresses for her daughter. “She really felt that this was God’s work,” Davis said. “She couldn’t believe there were no strings attached.”
Another family received funeral clothes they needed for two sons. One woman was able to get new outfits for her six children. A grandmother with limited income found clothes for her grandchildren. Davis even shared the clothes with other churches.
In total, she estimates that at least 100 children benefited from the donations. “It’s just been wonderful,” she said. “This is really what you call blessed to be a blessing. It’s been a great opportunity.”
Davis added that the clothing giveaway exemplifies the importance of community partnerships. Even though Boynton Chapel is small, by working with other organizations like Change Happens! the congregation can make a major impact.
“We can do more and help more people by working together,” she said.
Taking care of neighbors is at the heart of the church. “Our mission is empowering the family, strengthening the church and transforming the community,” Davis said. “We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, not just in our church but outside the building. The building is closed, but the church is still open.”
Bering UMC provides food and more
From the beginning of the pandemic, Bering UMC members asked, “What can we do to help?”
Before long, they identified a number of opportunities, Pastor Rev. Diane McGehee explained.
The church began distributing food and other items needed in the community. Every Friday, a crew of volunteers from the congregation heads to YMCA International office on Westpark to sort, pack and distribute goods for the Houston Food Bank, serving about 320 to 350 families.
McGehee said that Rev. Paige Martin serves on the YMCA International board and alerted the church to the opportunity.
In addition, Bering provides food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities to homeless young adults and their families on Sundays at the church.
The congregation also participates in weekly “scavenger hunts” for the Emergency Aid Coalition (EAC). The interfaith organization sends out lists of food and other items that they need for clients. “We send that last to our members and ask them to be on the lookout when they’re out shopping for groceries,” McGehee said.
Bering has also been fundraising to provide assistance with rent, utilities and other basic life necessities for families, especially for the undocumented population. “They are out of work and receiving no assistance because they are not eligible for unemployment, stimulus checks or government rent assistance and are falling through the cracks,” McGehee said.
In addition, there are eight church members who are busy sewing in partnership with Masks4Houston. The finished masks are distributed throughout the city, to the church community and for Native Americans, in particular the Orenda Tribe of the Navajo Nation.
Bering UMC is also praying for the entire chaplaincy staff at Methodist Hospital in the Medical Center and Texas Children’s. Members of the church are assigned the name of each chaplain on staff for a daily prayer. Volunteers are also been making sending thank you cards to the medical and chaplaincy staff, as well as get well cards to patients.
“We’re trying to give people different ways to do ministry, even those who need to stay at home,” McGehee said.
The church is also addressing the needs of children in the community, by partnering with WBPress.org, a gaming program that also teaches life skills developed by Rev. Kimberly Orr in the TAC.
Bering received a grant for its “Gaming For Growth: Educational, Social, and Emotional Learning” six-week summer program from the Texas Methodist Foundation. The church will work 50 students online and 24 in person in small groups to maintain social distancing.
“We’re trying to help students who have been struggling during COVID-19 to get back on grade level,” McGehee said. “The games are all tied to STEM curriculum, and kids need to have fun right now.”
The pastor explained that Bering has a missional focus. “The church has never been closed. We’re not in the building, and we won’t be for a while, but we’re doing ministry,” she said.
There are opportunities for mission in the church’s own backyard - and there are a number of ways members can participate in outreach, McGehee said. “It gives you a way to find meaning in the midst of all of this - and share the gospel,” she added.
McGehee noted that there is a lot of uncertainty in the air, grief in the neighborhood. “Everyone is swimming in stress,” she said. “But keep your eyes open for where God is showing up, because God is showing up in amazing ways. Even random acts of kindness are having a big impact.”