By Faith Hoyt, with Marquis D. Johns and Rocio Reyna
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.”
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.