By Faith Hoyt, with Marquis D. Johns, Rocio Reyna and Cynthia Mendoza
With the announcement of stay-at-home orders for those living in the Pacific Southwest and across the United States, churches operating Adventist Community Services began adapting their operations to safely serve their areas.
“The compassionate Adventist Community Services volunteers across all five states of the Pacific Union Conference continue to serve their communities even in the midst of this worldwide pandemic,” shared Charlene Sargent, ACS director for the Pacific Union. “They have found innovative ways to distribute much-needed food, water, and other supplies, while following CDC guidelines to keep themselves safe and prevent spread of the coronavirus.”
As the nation adjusted to a new normal—social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—the Southeastern California Conference (SECC) continued with a norm of its own: helping four ACS federations and their respective churches to serve their communities. In order to assist people who have lost their jobs, several churches are participating in a “drive-by food distribution” operation, a new modality for safe food distribution.
Though the shelter-in-place mandate closed churches, the essential nature of food distribution was recognized, and churches could open solely to continue to conduct this much-needed service.
SECC churches in Orange County—including Anaheim Sunkist, Costa Mesa Spanish, Orange County Grace, Fullerton, La Habra Spanish, Emmanuel Spanish, and McFadden churches—have continued their food distribution programs and, as of mid-April, distributed a combined total of 55, 000 pounds of food.
“As we work through the COVID-19 pandemic, the community services departments of the Southeastern California Conference are committed to continuing to do as much as we possibly can to help hurting people in our churches’ communities,” said Marquis Johns, ACS director for the SECC.
Northern California churches also opened their community service centers with food pantries to distribute food and daily necessities. One church was featured by Good Day Sacramento, which aired their mid-March visit to the Carmichael church food bank where they interviewed Pastor Keith Jacobson. The church started a drive-through food bank utilizing younger volunteers from their church and community.
Other NCC churches like Valley Community Church in Stockton are using their church van to deliver food and items to those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
“We have more than 20 churches that are actively engaging in community outreaches right now,” shared James Lim, ACS director for the Northern California Conference. “Other churches are distributing food to the needy community with precautions in compliance with social distancing measures.”
Across California’s Central Valley, similar ACS efforts are taking place. “Churches have been very creative about the ways that pastors and food pantry ministry leaders are assisting their communities,” said Antonio Huerta, ACS director for the Central California Conference. Huerta reports that approximately 33 churches are actively involved in serving their communities through drive-through food pantries that comply with social distancing regulations.
“Pastors have shared stories of the families they are connecting with,” Huerta said. “Our churches are serving and are extremely glad to help.”
Southern California Conference
The Southern California Conference (SCC) Adventist Community Services (ACS) has approximately 31 existing food programs at local churches; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an even greater need.
The $25,000 food pantry grant from the NAD has enabled the conference to help meet those increased needs. The grant covers food and protective supplies such as masks and gloves.
Safety protocols were put into place to ensure the well-being of volunteers and community members—including the initiation of drive-through delivery, in which recipients pop open their trunks and volunteers place the food boxes inside.
“In some communities people are very dependent on our food programs,” said James Lee, executive vice president for the conference, who also oversees ACS. “Some of the programs, which were serving 90 to 100 families weekly, are now serving close to 200 families.”
The Arizona Conference ACS oversees 11 food distribution centers, mainly at churches and a few other locations associated with the church.
Arizona Conference also received a $25,000 NAD food pantry grant, which has allowed them to meet increased needs. Six of the 11 centers have transitioned to a drive-through delivery method to help ensure the safety and health of volunteers and community members.
The Camp Verde church, a small congregation of 70 members, received an added blessing when National Guard troops assisted with packing food boxes.
“These centers see approximately 60 to 450 families a week, depending on the location,” said John Schachinger, Planned Giving and Trust Services and ACS director for the Arizona Conference. “In rural locations we are serving more people than in other areas.”
In the Hawaii Conference, volunteers have been helping feed the homeless and assisting other church members by dropping off food boxes on their doorsteps.
There are currently nine active ACS food banks in Hawaii, which serve anywhere from 20 to 200 people weekly, depending on need. ACS is also working closely with the state as part of a larger overall crisis response.
“We are all working together to make things happen,” said Jerry Mota, ACS director for the Hawaii Conference. “They have been very supportive. Working with the state is just one piece of the puzzle.”
Given their unique geographical and weather conditions, as well as natural disasters such as tsunamis, Hawaii Conference ACS also works closely with the state in terms of disaster preparedness and response.
Nevada and Utah
In the Nevada-Utah Conference, churches in West Jordan, Salt Lake City, Provo, and Quincy, as well as Centers of Influence, are involved in safe distribution of food and homemade masks. The masks are distributed to nursing homes, hospitals, and those on the front lines.
Additionally, area coordinators are encouraging local churches involved in ACS to collaborate with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a coalition of organizations involved in disaster-response related work.
“We are currently contacting the other SDA congregations to determine if ACS is established in each congregation and if they are connected to Utah’s VOAD,” said Linda Walton, area coordinator for Utah and a member of the Provo church. “Congregations are small and spread out, but it is a very important network for both the church and other disaster and community service organizations.”
NAD Grant for Local Conferences
In mid-April, the North American Division Adventist Community Services announced their investment of $1.5 million in grant monies for conferences in the NAD. Conferences who submit grant applications will be designated $25, 000 for relief efforts.
Pacific Union conferences such as the Central California Conference have applied and received this relief funding from the NAD to help provide food to their communities.
To learn more about ACS in the Pacific Union Conference, visit AdventistFaith.com.
Photo—top of page: Young adults from OC Grace church run their church’s ACS “drive-by” food distribution. Their team is led by Cristina Alba, Tiffany Vo, Nathan Smith, and Zaidy and Obed Olivarria.
Volunteers from the Anaheim Sunkist church set up for their ACS “drive-by” food distribution. “The new method of food distribution ensures that both those serving and those being served adhere to the established safety and social distancing guidelines mandated by state leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic,” shared Marquis Johns, ACS director for the SECC.