When medical facilities tending to COVID-19 reach capacity, getting medical attention is extremely difficult for many Americans and has been since the peak outbreak in March 2020. Appalachia is no different, having been profoundly affected by COVID-19, both with the number of cases and economic impacts. In St. Paul, Virginia, patients who needed treatments and procedures for other illnesses were forced to find their own housing or commute from far distances. Grace House on the Mountain, a 100-year old outreach ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, was able to help with lodging. Leaders noticed that needs were growing beyond the usual house repair requests, so they expanded Grace House’s outreach. Coal miners, factory workers and other laborers were laid off, and utility and medical costs began piling up. In partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, local county food banks, AppCAA and diocesan support, Grace House helped over 8,000 people to fill their prescriptions, keep the lights on in their homes and feed their families. “The entire process has been memorable,” says Director Anita Boyd as she described the emotional responses from the people Grace House was able to support. “Everyone was so appreciative.”
Throughout the global pandemic, many have struggled to stay employed and pay rent. Like Bee, for example. Bee is a single mother who came to Indianapolis, IN as a refugee from Somalia. She lost her job during the pandemic because she needed a significant amount of time-off to care for her COVID-sick daughter. Without a source of income, Bee’s bills started to pile up. Episcopal Relief & Development partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis to help people like Bee who were affected by the pandemic, immigrants who often don’t have family nearby or support systems. The programming was led by the Rev. Fatima Yakubu-Madus, a deacon at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis and Missioner for Community Engagement for the diocese. The Diocese of Indianapolis joined a coalition of ecumenical organizations that work with the immigrant community across Indiana to make a difference. Agencies like C.O.I.N., Migros Aid, Inc., Catholic Charities and others worked together to provide rent assistance and to pay utility bills. “I saw God in the helpers working together to get people through the pandemic,” says the Rev. Yakubu-Madus, who feels close to ministry because of her own story of coming to the US as a student from Nigeria in her twenties. “Things we consider little were actually a life-saver for these families. Keeping them warm and safe in their own places.” Yakubu-Madus shared that doing this work reminded her of the passage Matthew 25:35 (NRSV), “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” with her adding, “All immigrants need is love and support.”
“Semper Gumby,” a mix of Latin and nod to the clay animation cartoon character, a phrase used regularly by the Rosebud Episcopal Mission means “always flexible.” Each day, the Rev. Dr. Lauren Stanley, Erroll Geboe, Danny Gangone and other members of their COVID-19 response team face failing infrastructure and a lack of medical supplies which causes a range of need, and they do their best to find the items. It is with great heart that they assess needs and deliver supplies over a widespread area in coordination with the Sioux Tribe health representatives and the community chairman. By working with an established point person, they are able to maintain the privacy of individuals making requests for aid, asking for anything from eggs to pencils and crayons to entertain out-of-school children. “I received a call from one of our elders, to whom we normally supply firewood through our #FirewoodfortheElders program. I thought she was calling for firewood, because it had been very cold the night before (38 degrees),” said the Rev. Dr. Lauren Stanley, who leads the efforts. “Instead, she was calling simply to say, ‘Thank you’ for helping her get supplies. She said she was beginning to get desperate for bleach and other cleaning supplies, because of her own health, and the health of her grandchildren, whom she is raising. That call alone made all the miles worth it.”
In the US, over 11 million children live in food-insecure homes. School meal programs exist to address this, but during the vacation months, those programs are halted. Because of COVID-19, the needs have grown. Episcopal Relief & Development is working together with the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon, through Ascension School Camp and Conference Center in Cove, OR to address hunger. As part of their response, they distribute lunches to children under 18 and provide produce to the local food bank. This effort largely supports the families of wheat and mint farmers, as well as migrant workers. The Rev. Amy Jayne, Executive Director for Ascension School says of this emergency program, “Ascension School is small and we’re in a far eastern Oregon rural community.” She continues, “Our free lunch program, open to public school and home-schooled kids, has allowed us to become part of this community in a way that we haven’t ever before.” The free lunch program serves 60-65 lunches every week, including an assortment of snacks for weekends. One grateful mother of eight told the kitchen staff that the lunches were so large that she was able to split them into two meals. Ascension School will continue until the beginning of September when schools are set to reopen, and because of the need and success of the program so far, they may transition to a take-home-dinner program instead.
In Ohio, community meal programs were affected by COVID-19 when restaurants shut down and weren’t able to provide their surplus food. The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio found a solution by combining efforts of different diocesan ministries. Episcopal Relief & Development is able to partner with the diocese in serving 800 meals per week over the summer through their ministry called Feeding the Beloved Community, a collaboration between the diocese’s farm and four churches with deep community relationships. “I see God in the generosity and creativity of all of the people involved in making this program work,” said the Rt. Rev. Hollingsworth, bishop of the diocese. “We were able to integrate our farming and culinary internship program over at Bellwether Farm with the church feeding programs to make fresh, healthy food accessible.” Pictured here, an agriculture intern loads a vehicle with fresh produce to be delivered to a church partner. Bellwether Farm works with St. James Church in Painesville, Church of the Redeemer in Lorraine, St. Luke’s in Cleveland and Christ Church in Oberlin to serve elderly people, low-income families and homeless individuals.