Disciple: Give and Take
In a time of shutdown, St. Luke’s, Tarboro, opens a community ministry
The coronavirus pandemic hit many communities very hard beginning in the spring of 2020. As schools began to move to digital platforms and businesses were forced to shut down for an extended period, many families struggled to make ends meet. Food insecurity was a major concern that reverberated throughout communities across the United States. In Tarboro, North Carolina, members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church felt a yearning to respond to the needs of their neighbors and launched a new ministry, Give and Take.
[Image: Food bags are packed and ready to distribute before a monthly Give and Take event. Photo courtesy of St. Luke’s, Tarboro]
“YOU DID FOR ME”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks lovingly of those who saw him as a stranger and fed him because he was hungry. They offered him a drink because they recognized he was thirsty and also clothed him after finding him naked. Those within the sound of his voice during that discourse were confused and wanted to know when he witnessed such events as these.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (Matthew 25:37-39) Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Several years ago, the Episcopal Church Women in the Diocese of North Carolina encouraged their sisters around the Diocese to begin feeding programs as outreach missions in their churches. The women of St. Luke’s answered the call and distributed one or two baskets annually between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the pandemic dramatically affected their community a little over a year ago, they began to rethink their mission. God was calling them to offer something more, to go beyond the once-a-year practice. They did go, and, starting in December 2020, they expanded their ministry to offer food more often and throughout their local community.
St. Luke’s is a historic, and historically Black, congregation that marked its 150th anniversary last year and looks forward to the pandemic-postponed celebration this October. The congregation is a small one, and the church is not one known for having extensive material resources on which to draw. Yet in the throes of a pandemic, with only a few dedicated church members volunteering at the start, St. Luke’s initiated a monthly food ministry called Give and Take. On the third Saturday of each month, St. Luke’s members, along with volunteers from Calvary, Tarboro, distribute 50 bags of non-perishable food to community residents. They also include essential household items such as paper towels and toilet paper. During the pandemic, bags were augmented with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Leading up to the day of the monthly giveaway, volunteers look for sales and huge discounts to stretch their small budget as far as they can. According to organizer Betsy Crews, “When the pandemic began, our church donations were only going to the utility companies, but that is not what church is about. We felt better when we became active in reaching our neighbors.”
Fliers are distributed throughout the community each month to remind area residents about the food drive. Participants are also encouraged to donate items if they are so inclined. As people arrive, they are welcome to take as needed, no questions asked. During the past year, in addition to financial donations, Give and Take has received clothing and household goods. Ministry organizers are never sure what will be left on the donation table; past donations include lamps and other furnishings. Crews says their mantra to the community is “if you have it, give it, and if you need it, take it.”
HERE TO HELP
The St. Luke’s congregation may be very small in number, but there is no measuring the size and generosity of their hearts. Senior Warden Delores Faison says supporting their neighbors “lets the community know that we are the little church on the corner with the red doors, and we are here to help.” They have been fortunate in receiving donations to keep the ministry going. Faison points out that they received a one-time monetary grant from Food Lion in addition to individual gifts.
Crews and her husband and ministry partner, Winfield, who is also St. Luke’s junior warden, expressed a sense of gratitude towards Calvary member Norma Armstrong, who donates 50 loaves of homemade bread to the grocery bags every moth. Armstrong posted on Facebook, “It was a pleasure to help.” They admit they are hopeful others will continue to support their ministry as they continue to live out their mission in the Tarboro community. Said Crews, “post-COVID, we want to continue helping our neighbors.” They are prayerful that with God’s grace and additional outside support, they will soon add meat products to the bags so that families can have some balanced meals.
Not many organizations can say they increased their contributions by a factor of 50 in times of a pandemic, but St. Luke’s is a congregation that can say just that. In a time of trial when everyone was counseled to shelter in place, they reached out to neighbors and strangers, truly living the call to feed and invite in, unconditionally, those among us.
The Rev. Kathy Walker is the missioner for Black ministries for the Diocese of North Carolina.
Images: Volunteers fill grocery bags with food and essential paper goods. Norma Armstrong donates 50 loaves of homemade bread to the Give and Take ministry each month. Photos courtesy of St. Luke’s, Tarboro
Tags: North Carolina Disciple