Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program is supporting dioceses in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In partnership with the Presiding Bishop’s office, US Disaster Program staff held regular calls beginning in mid-March 2020 with bishops and key leaders in Episcopal dioceses to address the novel coronavirus pandemic. Initial response steps included the creation of faith-based resources to help bishops and diocesan staff determine how to safely conduct services and to maintain community in a pandemic. As the pandemic progressed and states issued stay-at-home orders, the US Disaster Program began offering webinars on a variety of topics such as mental health, isolation, institutional support and immigration, as well as other resources to help diocesan partners address the widespread impact of the coronavirus. The US Disaster Program continues to provide technical support as partners determine how to best respond to the unique needs in their communities, whether that be mental health care, medical care, financial assistance or other needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed many of the services available to migrants in shelters on the US-Mexico border, such as La Casa Shelter, which is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. The diocese is working with shelter staff to implement physical distancing and provide virtual support to keep all of the residents safe and healthy as they navigate the US immigration process. The Diocese of Arizona has a long-standing relationship with Cruzando Fronteras and the shelter. With the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, it is leveraging these relationships to adapt the emotional, physical and pastoral assistance provided to migrants in the shelter under the current situation.
Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting the Episcopal dioceses of California, el Camino Real, Los Angeles and San Diego to meet needs created by the pandemic.
The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego has leveraged its connections through Camp Stevens to provide food for vulnerable communities in both rural and urban areas. The diocese is operating four food pantries throughout San Diego county that serve 600 people in need on a weekly basis.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is also working through Camp Stevens and other local organizations to distribute boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables in Julian, California, a rural town 35 minutes from the nearest grocery story, to elderly, undocumented individuals or people impacted financially. Many families rely on supplemental food through school lunches and have struggled during school closures.
The Episcopal Diocese of California distributed N95 masks to people without shelter who are being disproportionately impacted not only by the pandemic but additionally by the unhealthy air quality caused by the wildfires. The diocese is mobilizing congregations that served as food distribution and sheltering sites to distribute these masks.
The Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real is also providing relief for families affected by the California wildfires and COVID-19. The diocese also supplied gift cards for food and gas, covering hotel bills, as well as assisted farmworkers who have been affected by both the pandemic and the poor air quality caused by the fires.
Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta in a COVID-19 emergency response project through Church of the Common Ground, whose congregation is made up predominantly of people experiencing homelessness. Historically, this community has had difficulty accessing resources. COVID-19 has further complicated this. The project seeks to reduce barriers to COVID-19 vaccination in order to decrease the severity of the illness in this community. The Church of Common Ground is offering transportation and incentives to people living in Woodruff Park and at Central Night Shelter who receive the vaccine. The church is also providing medical services such as foot care and medical supplies.
Episcopal Relief & Development is working with the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis to provide relief in the form of rental and utility assistance as well as gift cards for medication and hygiene products to over 100 individuals and their families. Many of those affected have been laid off, furloughed or have had their working hours reduced. This support will be distributed in collaboration with the diocese’s food pantry, The Storehouse.
The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, with the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, is providing direct support in New Orleans for vulnerable communities impacted by the coronavirus and the related stay-at-home orders. This partnership has distributed food to 200 vulnerable families in the West Bank neighborhood. The diocese is also delivering 250 meals per week in the 6th, 7th and 9th wards to young people, gig workers and musicians.
Episcopal Relief & Development is also working with the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana to provide direct assistance to individuals in the central and northern part of the state who are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent survey conducted by the United Way, 67% of respondents in this area indicated a need for help with everyday bills and housing payments. Through this partnership, the diocese is working with other community organizations and churches for referrals to identify people in need and offer assistance.
With Episcopal Relief & Development’s support, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Massachusetts is expanding its existing outreach to undocumented individuals, who are particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many undocumented workers lost their main source of income due to shutdowns and overall lack of work. In collaboration with the Greater Boston Food Bank and other local partners, St. Luke’s is providing meals to over 700 families per week.
Rural communities in the United States often lack access to mental health care. Additionally, the stigma surrounding this care often means individuals don’t ask for help. For example, the rate of suicide in rural Missouri has skyrocketed in recent years and the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the situation. The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri trained 70 volunteers in Randoph and Boone counties in first aid for mental health to help identify individuals at risk in their communities and to connect these individuals with local behavioral health resources.
The Episcopal Church in Navajoland (ECN) serves communities in the four corners of the Navajo reservation located in three states – New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The COVID-19 pandemic spread quickly through these communities. Families lost income due to illness, quarantine and lack of available jobs, complicating pre-existing financial burdens. ECN, with Episcopal Relief & Development’s support, is distributing food boxes and providing gas cards and assistance with utilities to help meet emergency needs.
The Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, with Episcopal Relief & Development’s support, is adapting programming in order to both respond to COVID-19 and to increase disaster resilience among farmworkers in the diocese of East and North Carolina. Farmworkers in this area have been hit by consecutive hurricanes almost annually since Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and are particularly vulnerable to disasters due to language barriers and the likelihood of losing income when a storm hits the area. The Episcopal Farmworker Ministry is providing meals, and hygiene and cleaning kits to local families and farmworker camps, as well as rental assistance, furniture, appliances and home repair, and mental health services.
Episcopal Relief & Development worked with the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio to address the impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities in the northern part of the state. Through the diocese’s ministry, Feeding the Beloved Community, which leverages their deep community relationships and diocesan-grown produce and pork, the diocese served 800 meals per week in the summer of 2020.
The Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is assisting individuals and families who have been affected by both the coronavirus and historic floods that devastated Pendleton, Oregon in early February, damaging or destroying more than 400 buildings and homes. The diocese had to adjust plans for the flooding response quickly as stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines were issued. The closure of non-essential businesses created other economic concerns. With the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, the diocese is providing assistance with rent, food and other needs to impacted individuals and families.
The diocese is also working through Ascension School in Cove, OR to provide lunches to families with children under 18. As part of their efforts, the school is using its garden to provide produce to the local food bank.
With the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, Programa REDES is supporting vulnerable communities in the mountainous and island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The organization is offering COVID-19 vaccination clinics that do not require pre-registration as well as providing incentives to those who get vaccinated.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders, many members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are not able to work, and therefore, are in need of food and supplies. The Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota is partnering with Episcopal Relief & Development to provide gas, diapers, food and to meet other emergency needs on the reservation.
The Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, with Episcopal Relief & Development’s support, leveraged existing partnerships with trusted community service and social justice organizations to respond to the pandemic in 2020. Diocesan leaders worked with partners to identify individuals and families in economic crisis such as those who lost income, single-parent and working-parent families with young children, and refugee or undocumented individuals who may lack access to social safety nets. The diocese provided direct financial relief to meet immediate needs for emergency food and housing assistance.
In the summer of 2021, the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee sponsored COVID-19 vaccine events for underserved rural Latino communities experiencing high levels of poverty. As part of the effort, the diocese gave children gift cards to buy school supplies for the upcoming school year and boxes of food from the local food bank. The Church also assisted families applying for SNAP benefits.
Episcopal Relief & Development is working with the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas to provide COVID-19-related medical care and testing to vulnerable communities in the Rio Grande Valley. Additionally, the diocese is providing internet access for undocumented and low-income children returning to school online, food assistance for migrants living in encampments across the border and assistance to churches with food pantries. To address food and household needs, the diocese is distributing gift cards to impacted families.
Episcopal Relief & Development worked with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia early in the pandemic to provide food and other emergency assistance to migrant farm, domestic and restaurant workers who had lost income due to COVID-19. Leveraging the gifts of the diocese’s Latino Ministry, Spanish-speaking volunteers distributed grocery store gift cards to impacted communities in the South Hill, Eastern Shore, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Richmond areas.
The Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, with Episcopal Relief & Development’s support, is providing COVID-19 relief in 2021 to low-income families and individuals in the Appalachian region, an area which is historically underserved and was experiencing an economic depression even before COVID-19. Through existing relationships in the community, Grace House on the Mountain, a non-profit community organization run by the diocese, is replenishing food pantries and covering utility and medical expenses.
St. Clare Episcopal Church in Snoqualmie, Washington is partnering with Episcopal Relief & Development and local organizations to supply food on an ongoing basis to marginalized communities. As a result of COVID-19, the area has seen a higher rate of unemployment and underemployment, deepening the lack of availability of food that was already present in the community. In December, St. Clare delivered Christmas dinner to approximately 300 families (approximately 1200 people).
With Episcopal Relief & Development’s support, the Church of the Epiphany will provide handwashing stations and food and supplies like toiletries, basic clothing, snacks and water to those experiencing homelessness in its community, to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. The Church will continue its Tuesday Concert Series, which had been in-person for 30 years, online this year, using the opportunity to teach YouTube skills to older adults and to promote public health messages.
Updated August 18, 2021