Diocesan Congregations Respond to Community Needs During Pandemic and Coinciding Crises
[Episcopal Diocese of West Texas] While observing risk-reducing protocols changes how congregations can reach out to their neighbors, the churches of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas are leveraging existing relationships and ministry partnerships to meet immediate needs in their communities. Equipped by funds from Episcopal Relief and Development, seventeen churches utilized their Outreach Grants to stock local food pantries, build hurricane/COVID-19 readiness kits, and feed healthcare families while praying without ceasing for all affected in their communities. Additionally, Immigration Ministries will distribute grant funds providing food, household supplies, and access to medical support for low-income communities and asylum-seeking, migrant families within the diocese, through a $20,000 grant received in August 2020. Working together with the diocese, local churches are actively serving their neighbors and their communities even while remaining physically distanced.
In the Coastal Bend, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Corpus Christi, Texas created hurricane readiness kits, including items to help sanitize and stay safe during the pandemic. Each waterproof tub contained shelf-stable food for three to four days, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, a tarp, flashlights and batteries, a first-aid kit, coloring books and crayons, a $30 gift card for gas or other necessities, and face masks to protect families during the unpredictable, high stress situations presented by a hurricane-mandated evacuation. The church also included a comprehensive list of disaster relief agencies, an evacuation checklist, and a personal letter offering prayers and support for the recipients.
St. Andrew’s, Corpus Christi distributed ten kits through CarePortal, an online platform where Child Protective Services (CPS) can anonymously share the needs of their clients with participating, local churches. Donna Kilgore, Bishop’s Warden at St. Andrew’s, shares, “Everyone at St. Andrew’s participates, and somehow, God always blesses us with the ability to provide many of the needs, by partnering with other area churches. Even as a small church, we are doing much more than just providing physical needs. We also seek to minister, pray, mentor and help these families and children who are in, or may be placed in, foster care.”
Kilgore continues, “The timing of the [Outreach Grant] was perfect. We chose ten families that we had helped recently and arranged for the tubs to be picked up in front of the church or be delivered on Friday, July 24th, which was the day the outer bands of Hurricane Hanna arrived. Every family was extremely grateful, and two of the recipients literally wept with relief. St. Andrew’s is extremely grateful for the grant funding to help these families. …Nothing is better than seeing little faces light up when they when they are told they are precious and loved, valued and important in a tangible way. Every church can fully participate in spreading God’s love to these vulnerable, hurting families. You can learn more at CarePortal.org or contact St. Andrew’s, Corpus Christi if your church is interested in participating.”
In the bayside community of Portland,Texas, St. Christopher’s by the Sea Episcopal Church used grant funds to supplement their usual food pantry fare with face masks, hand sanitizer, meat, and fresh fruit. Debi LaFour, Church Treasurer, reported how the additional funds helped them bless their community even further. She shares, “[the church] also used some of the grant money to purchase box fans for our clients. Many are having trouble paying for their electric bill, and some of our clients don’t even have air conditioning. Everyone is going to be so very excited.”
Over 130 miles inland, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seguin, Texas received a grant to help bolster the local food bank, in order to assist families and individuals experiencing food insecurity due to job loss or reduction in resources. In addition, the congregation donated food to an Employee Pantry Program at Guadalupe Regional Medical Center (GRMC) in Seguin, so that healthcare workers, whose spouses may have lost work recently, can get food for their families to bridge the gap.
Chuck Ingersoll, Parish Treasurer, shares, “GRMC is also seeking prayers for all their healthcare and administrative staff. As a support to their efforts, St. Andrew’s Church has organized an around the clock prayer cycle for GRMC healthcare workers and their families, in which someone has committed to pray each hour of the day until this crisis is over. We are especially grateful to be able to give back to our community.”
In addition to the dangers of hurricane season, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the immigration crisis at Texas’ southern border have taken a desperate situation from bad to worse. Responding to a call to action from the Rt. Rev. David Reed, Bishop of West Texas, individual and church donors helped create the diocesan Emergency Immigration Housing Fund to provide temporary, safe lodging for asylum-seeking families. Funds raised by local donors to the diocesan Emergency Immigration Housing Fund are actively providing safe shelter for families, released from South Texas detention centers.
On Thursday, August 24th, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition alerted West Texas’ ImmigrationMinistries of an asylum-seeking family with an emergency need for long-term housing for a mother, father, and their young daughter.
The family had left Angola, their home country, earlier in 2020 and surrendered to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), requesting asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. After processing, the pregnant mother was separated from her husband and first child, then detained for almost two months. She entered labor prematurely, after enduring the stresses of fleeing her home and being detained, and was transported to the nearest hospital where she delivered twins, alone and surrounded by healthcare professionals who could not speak her language, in head-to-toe protective gear.
The local hospital did not have the neonatal equipment necessary for the twins’ survival, so the mother and her babies were transferred quickly to San Antonio for advanced treatment in a Neonatal Intensive Care unit. While she recovered from a traumatic C-section, the twins struggled, receiving constant care and breathing via respirators. A local nonprofit sent her a legal representative; the mother shared via translator that she worried for the survival of her premature babies and wondered if she would ever see her husband and first child again, while CBP stood outside her hospital room.
After multiple conversations with her legal representative, and witnessing the woman’s continual physical and emotional distress, CBP released the mother and her infants from their custody. Before returning to their stationed post, the agents informed them that her husband and young daughter had been reunited and would arrive in San Antonio that same day. After being detained in separate facilities for almost two months, the family would be reunited.
Notified by the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, the diocesan Immigration Ministries deployed theEmergency Immigration Housing Fund to rent an apartment for the family within walking distance to the hospital where the twins continue receiving lifesaving care, and mobilized community connections to provide food and other basic necessities for the family. While the infants remain on life-support, their doctors expect that by October they will be healthy enough to leave the hospital.
Working together to respond to urgent realities of unemployment, food insecurity, natural disasters, refugees, and other crises within their local communities, Episcopal congregations, individuals, and diocesan ministries are following Jesus outside the walls of their churches, looking through the lens of hearts enlightened to find him in the faces of neighbors in need.
Find out more about Immigration Ministries by visiting dwtx.org/immigration. Join the Weekly Migrant Cycle of Prayer, and click here to sign up for their email newsletter, which contains news, educational resources, and ministry updates.
Find out more about the Commission for Disaster Preparedness and Response by visiting dwtx.org/disasterresponse. Follow DWTX Disaster Response on Facebook, at facebook.com/DWTXDisasterResponse for news, educational resources, and ministry updates.
Join Episcopal Relief & Development in supporting partners around the world and in the United States in response to needs created by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Click here to learn more.
Photo courtesy of Grace Buchanan, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Edinburg, Texas, featuring Gloria Ramirez, Director of Mujeres Unidas a local shelter for abused women. Normally, the shelter's guests eat family style; due to the Covid-19 restrictions they can no longer eat meals together, and can only eat what can be prepared using the microwaves in their rooms. Equipped by the Outreach Grant, St. Matthew's, Edinburg purchased a month's worth of frozen meals to feed 6 to 10 families, continuing a longstanding ministry partnership between the congregation and Mujeres Unidas.