2020 was not the year any of us expected. The coronavirus pandemic, in a matter of months, threw off a wake of economic hardship and poverty with local and global impacts.
Here on Long Island, low income families have become sick at disproportionately higher rates, with worse outcomes. Families previously “getting by" have found themselves unable to make ends meet. Jobs that disappeared in the first wave have not all come back. The ability to pay for daily living expenses has been severely compromised, along with life savings. Food insecurity — hunger— has become a reality for too many of our neighbors. A housing crisis looms, postponed but not averted by eviction moratoriums.
St. John’s Outreach was made for this.
If there is anything I have been proud of this year, it is how deeply we as a congregation have listened to the voices of our neighbors in this new wilderness, and how effectively, compassionately and nimbly we have responded. This small but mighty parish has demonstrated the ability to pivot quickly to fill in gaps that larger institutions (including our government) have not. With our church buildings closed, it hasn’t always easy to figure out how to do what’s needed — but, we have.
This moment has invited us to listen, learn, feel, and think — to be creative, and, ultimately, to enter into sustained, collaborative work with multiple partners. Through our mutual efforts, we have found greater insight into our community. We have been given a chance to really see our neighbors, to get to know each other face to face. By pooling our resources, we have found new strength.
Here are some of the ways St. John’s has made an impact this year:
St. John’s has…
…held weekly food drives throughout the spring and summer, to help families in Huntington Station and Northport (much-needed, as many of the local food pantries were forced to close during the first wave)
…provided hot meals from local restaurants to hundreds of families at weekly food distributions in Huntington Station
…provided volunteers to help at food distributions, which took place most days of the week.
…donated grocery gift cards and other essential items directly to families in need (helping our partners drop donations off at their homes if the family couldn’t get out).
…participated in a summer-long reading initiative to provide new books to underserved students (and celebrated each book read with “goody bags” made by parishioners).
…helped deliver Friday night pizzas to under-resourced families (such a joy to the children!).
…supported the St. John’s Day Camp, which was able to run successfully at a reduced census in a temporary location (miraculously with no Covid cases).
…conducted “Blue Bag” food collections to support of the Community Food Council.
…participated in YFCA’s holiday “Adopt-a-Family” program (buying Christmas gifts for 3 Oyster Bay families from their personal “wish lists”).
…participated in Family Service League’s holiday toy drive.
…shared resources with an evolving web of local organizations. A few of our Covid relief partners:
- Community Solidarity
- Housing Help
- Project Hope
- Suffolk County Police Department Second Precinct
- St. Hugh of Lincoln Outreach
- Students for 60,000 Club (Northport High School)
- Town of Huntington
…provided financial grants totaling $64,454 to support both Covid relief and the on-going work of our long-time community partners:
- Camp DeWolfe
- Community Food Council
- Community Solidarity
- Eastern Farm Workers
- Family Service League (HIHI, Manor Field After School Program, Lockwood Preschool)
- Gerald J. Ryan Outreach Center
- Housing Help
- Save the Children LI Council (Kentucky Early Steps for Success Program)
- St. George’s Church Hempstead Food Pantry
- St. Matthias Fellowship
- Tanzanian Children’s Fund
- Tri-Community Youth Agency
- Youth and Family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay and East Norwich
In the face of the pandemic, there were, of course, goals we had to set aside and adjustments that needed to be made:
—The St. Matthias Fellowship, unfortunately, had to cancel their fete due to Covid, creating a funding gap for our partner school. Stay tuned for more on that in January, when we hope we can rally together to help.
— HIHI had to suspend operations mid-season due to Covid safety considerations. It was a mild winter, thankfully, but we may not be so lucky this year. The HIHI team is looking at how best to help our homeless neighbors until it is safe to congregate again.
— Our goal of encouraging work that builds agency and capacity was, of necessity, set aside in favor of more immediate relief efforts. Sometimes a handout is exactly what’s needed.
For me personally, St. John’s Outreach has been a way out of the isolation and anxiety of this Covid era. I know I speak for many when I say that it has been a gift to have a way to think beyond myself and be helpful.
I am also grateful that, in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy, we have had this opportunity to stand with neighbors of all stripes (black, white, latino, documented, undocumented, police, legislators, young, old, people of every faith, and people of no faith) with no other agenda than to figure out how to marshal our combined resources to reduce the suffering of our neighbors. Working together, sharing conversations, sharing our joys and sorrows, learning about each other’s lives — that feels the beginning of something.
Looking ahead, the Outreach Steering Committee continues to seek ways to engage our parishioners in direct service. Covid relief work is likely to be needed for at least the next 6 months. After that, as we hopefully return to a more normal rhythm, we would like to build on what we have learned and strengthen the bonds we have forged with our neighbors.
Thank you to the entire congregation for your support of St. John’s Outreach’s efforts this year. Whether as a committee member, volunteer, donor, or cheerleader, you are living your faith through service.
We close with 2 questions we ask you to consider:
— What else would you like to see St. John’s doing in the world?
— What will you do with us?
We invite you to share your vision as we continue to shape our Outreach efforts together.
The Outreach Steering Committee
Laura Swiggett, Chair
Mary Gay Townsend