Hit hard by school closures amid the new coronavirus epidemic, anxious families now risk being unable to feed their children, church and school leaders say.
“Families are fearful,” says Lina Thompson, senior pastor of Lake Burien Presbyterian Church in Burien, Washington. “They’re concerned about getting food, paying for food, and finding food for their families. The community we serve already feels marginalized, disconnected, and is in great need. We need our families to know there is hope, and that hope will overcome fear.”
As COVID-19 cases rise with school closures and restrictions increasing across the nation, church leaders and school officials are partnering with World Vision to distribute life-sustaining supplies such as food, personal hygiene products, and clean water to food-insecure families.
“When schools are closed, that means a lot of children will not eat,” says Susan Enfield, superintendent of Highline Public Schools also in Burien. “Our children and their families face challenges every day of the year, and this is an extraordinary time of extraordinary need. We need to be working together and with hope.”
We need our families to know there is hope, and that hope will overcome fear.—Pastor Lina Thompson, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Reed Slattery, national director of World Vision’s U.S. Programs, says the organization’s response is unprecedented.
“Not only is it around the whole country and around the world, but it’s right here in our own backyard,” says Reed, who has been with World Vision for 15 years. “The schools and communities we are serving are actually where I lived and grew up in. I know a lot of these families who were already struggling. To know that I can play a small role in assisting them brings a little relief, and that is a really good feeling.”
The World Vision Storehouse network is comprised of six product warehouses across the U.S. that receive corporate donations of new, top-quality goods made available to local community partners for distribution. Goods that are distributed include building materials, school supplies, personal care items, and clothing to over 2.2 million people in low-income communities annually.
During the new coronavirus epidemic, World Vision warehouses in Washington state, New York City, Chicago, Texas, West Virginia, and Connecticut are stocking up on items that its partner network of churches, schools, community- and other faith-based organizations can use to prevent infections. These include liquid and bar soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and face masks. World Vision has been assisting people by:
- Collecting and distributing preventative and protective supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfecting cleaners to families and children
- Distributing critical supplies to medical centers including face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer
- Providing nutritious food to children who rely on school food programs for their primary meals
Last week, donations of food, first-aid antiseptic, hand sanitizers, and school supplies arrived at World Vision’s Fife, Washington, warehouse, where they were packaged into Family Emergency Kits for distribution at local churches. Each Family Emergency Kit has food, first-aid antiseptic spray, hand sanitizers, and school supplies.
“I feel so honored to be a part of bringing a piece of Jesus to people right now,” says Barbara Atwood, a World Vision programs specialist who packed dozens of kits for families. “Folks are really struggling. But with Jesus working through us, we can be the hands and feet of God to people in need.”
Her family also has been financially affected by the epidemic. “My son was laid off and is now looking for work and taking any odd job he can find, and I worry for him,” she says. “So, to be a part of helping our community fills me with joy and hope. This will come to an end, but what we did for others will last.”
A local distribution
The beautiful warm day with its cloudless blue-sky belied the gravity of the pandemic. Birds chirped as volunteers worked in unison, repeating a few phrases to encourage physical distancing (formerly social distancing, here’s why!): “Can you please drive forward? Can you please stay in your car? Can you please open your trunk so we can place the boxes inside for you?” Scores of families arrived quietly during the first distribution of Family Emergency Kits at Lake Burien Presbyterian Church on Friday, March 20. Some parents pulled up in Ubers, one teenager took a bus, while others walked with their children to the church. A few kids, donned in protective masks, skipped alongside their mothers.
Church volunteers, like Jesse Leaupepe, say: “I know the kids coming in to receive the relief supplies. They need to know we’re in this together and to be hopeful during this time. I want to be here to assure them that we’ll get through this.”
Families say they’ve been facing even fewer options as they navigate through coronavirus closures, layoffs, and disruptions.
“It’s such a hard time and then to lose your job on top of that, it’s beyond,” says Edna Vanessa Salinas, a 26-year-old mother of two young children, ages 5 and 1. She says she learned her position at a Burien-area dental office had been cut on Friday.
“I was the first to find out,” she says. She was the last in line for her emergency kit on Friday. “I don’t know what I would have done without the relief packages.”
Highline schools provide 5,100 breakfasts and 11,000 lunches for children each school day, says Susan, the school superintendent. “That’s 7 out of 10 kids who rely on the school for most, if not all, of their meals.”
For example, she says, on Thursday school officials provided an additional 1,400 “grab-and-go” meals to feed children while not exposing them or staff to COVID-19. “We serve about 18,000 children, so 1,400 meals — that’s a drop in the bucket.” Susan says. “We are so grateful for our partnership with World Vision.”
Other distributions are slated across King and Pierce counties this week.
Pastors tend to needs
Bishop Lawrence White, the senior pastor of the Church of the Living God in Tacoma, Washington, headed to the World Vision warehouse on Wednesday, March 18, to help curtail the devastation caused by the new coronavirus.
The pastor says his congregation quickly adhered to government restrictions and shuttered his church and moved to “virtual worship” last week. Around the world, churches have suspended their public services and moved online.
“We’re minimizing everything to avoid groups and gatherings but still having prayers and service together through our virtual worship,” says White.
White has seen the effects of the pandemic on his congregation.
“The need is broad; the need is food,” says White, who described his Pierce County congregation as a diverse, mid-sized assembly of 112 people, which includes 18 families. “We have people who are experiencing job loss and their financial challenges. We are fortunate that we do not have direct cases of the disease, but we have had family members who have been affected. We have a considerable size of senior members who have health issues, and because of this pandemic we are concerned.”
In partnership with World Vision, White is working with Pierce County schools to learn how many children and their families will require relief supplies.
World Vision has always been a proactive and responsible partner to the faith community. This partnership shows the love of Christ to people who do not know him.—Bishop Lawrence White, Church of the Living God in Tacoma
He said families are desperately seeking food, paper products, and school supplies. “World Vision has always been a proactive and responsible partner to the faith community,” says White. “This partnership shows the love of Christ to people who do not know him.”
As students across the nation switched to learning online, André Sims also headed to the warehouse to find ways to help nourish kids who were missing school meals because of closures.
“I know about 3,000 students who are in desperate need of food,” says André, the senior pastor of Christ the King Bible Fellowship in Federal Way, Washington.
He’s working with King County school district officials to help students in Federal Way access food and meals. He’s coordinating a team and resources to help distribute Family Emergency Kits to students at their apartment complexes. He says, “Shortages are everywhere, and we need to serve everyone.”
Community member returns the favor
With gloves on, Melina Marroquin, a Federal Way mother of two, spent the day filling 4-ounce containers with sanitizing spray at the World Vision Storehouse in Fife. On Friday, she had filled 1,700 of them, pumping the liquid from a 55-gallon drum of the first-aid antiseptic.
“I can’t think of a better way to be of service,” says Melina. She says her goal was to make sure families received safe and effective hand sanitizer in their Family Emergency Kits.
Melina grew up in Guatemala and says, as a child, she needed first-aid essentials and school supplies growing up. “My hope came in the shape of a World Vision truck,” she says. “I remember running after the truck when I was a little girl. World Vision would come to my village, and I would receive supplies. I was not a sponsored child, but I was helped too. Now, my life has come full circle. I am grateful to God to be of service to families who are in need now because of this crisis. I know we have a great God and he’s walking with us all.”
This story was written prior to the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks in public.