Part I in a two-part series

By Christie R. House
August 2020 | ATLANTA

Among the recipients of the UMCOR Rapid Response COVID-19 grants made possible by the Sheltering in Love Campaign are a few of the more than 90 United Methodist National Mission Institutions with long histories of service in their communities. These community centers and service providers, supported by United Methodist Women and their conferences, have learned to listen to neighbors and adapt to their changing circumstances. Today, they are collaborating with multiple partners to stretch their resources and meet the needs of neighbors affected by the novel coronavirus.

Gum Moon Residence in San Francisco and Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement in Kentucky have implemented Sheltering in Love UMCOR COVID-19 Rapid Response grants to increase their ministries as unemployment reaches unprecedented levels in the U.S. Well-grounded in their communities, these institutions acted quickly as the demand for their services increased through the spring and summer months.

United Methodists have generously supported the Sheltering in Love campaign, giving $1,704,800, from which 141 grants have been dispersed totaling $1,559,601.

Charlie displays his artwork. Charlie’s family received rental assistance and a grocery card to support food security and rental assistance from the UMOCR grant.

Gum Moon Residence

Gum Moon Residence and Asian Women’s Resource Center in San Francisco, California, was founded in 1868 by Methodist women to provide shelter, education and vocational training for Chinese girls rescued from human trafficking. Over time it became a home for low-income Chinese women who were either studying or employed, but who could not afford housing. Today, Gum Moon continues its mission to serve Asian women but has also expanded to serve women of all ages and all backgrounds who need Gum Moon’s services during difficult transitions in their lives.

In addition to the residence hall, where some residents are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or trafficking, Gum Moon also offers family support programs: playgroups for children from birth to 5 years, support groups for parents and grandparents raising children, school-age programs for elementary school children and weekend children’s art classes.

When California closed businesses and ordered in-home sheltering to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Gloria Tan, the executive director of Gum Moon Residence, applied for an UMCOR COVID-19 grant to provide grocery and rent assistance.

“A lot of immigrant families work in restaurants and hotels, but there are no conventions in town now. So many of the Bay area restaurants have closed for good,” she said. “Some of the families we work with were laid off, some had to apply for unemployment. We never experienced this before.”

Tan continued: “We know families are stressed, with children at home and sometimes both parents unemployed. They worry about bills and rent. Although they cannot be evicted, money owed to the landlord keeps accumulating. Food distribution sites are experiencing very long lines.”

Gum Moon helped families pay their rent and supplied grocery cards, so families could buy food and supplies, such as formula and diapers for infants.

“In addition, my staff conducted wellness check-ins with families and we devised virtual classes to make sure families have a way to talk about stress,” Tan explained. Staff also met online with children and their parents to continue art classes and other educational offerings.

“These are challenging times,” Tan admitted. “First COIVD-19, then protests and tension concerning racism. Some of our immigrant families hadn’t experienced these kinds of tensions or protests before. We engaged them at the time with lengthy discussions on what racism is about. We stress the importance of educating very young children on racism and justice and being one big family.”

Red Bird Mission

Next year, Red Bird Mission will celebrate its 100th anniversary. As a former Evangelical United Brethren mission, it became part of Global Ministries’ National Division in 1968. The mission, based in Beverly, serves Clay, Bell and Leslie counties in Southeastern Kentucky, each of which has a population of about 20,000. Today, Red Bird Mission, with its own board of directors, offers a Christian School for Pre-K-12th grade students; a health clinic; program ministries with elders, families, women and children; economic opportunity through a craft marketing program and store; help to access potable water and a thriving home maintenance ministry that normally brings 2,500 volunteers a year to the area.

“This UMCOR Rapid Response grant couldn’t have come at a better time,” noted Tracy Nolan, Red Bird Mission’s community outreach director. She is a Registered Nurse who also assists with the mission’s community health nursing and elder care programs.

An UMCOR COVID-19 grant meant Red Bird Mission could extend service to Mary, who is raising her grandchildren ages 7, 3, and a 1. She received a Baby Bag for her 1-year-old grandson, a backpack, and a pre-k readiness bag and an Emergency Food Box that included at least 7 full meals per person. Mary was overwhelmed with emotion as she explained how much these items meant to her and her family. All items received are currently expensive and difficult to find in the area.

“We were already addressing hunger relief issues and how to supply basic needs like diapers, wipes and formula for families daily,” she said. “When this pandemic hit, it hurt us on multiple levels. We began seeing new clients that had never come to our offices before because of lay-offs and unemployment.”

Even those who could get to a store to buy groceries found empty shelves. Infant supplies were scarce. Personal protection equipment was difficult to find, but eventually, Red Bird received the shipments it needed.

“If we had not gotten this grant, we could not have stepped up to meet the real-time needs,” Nolan confirmed. “There aren’t many other agencies in this rural community that could respond quickly. A lot of the food banks either completely closed or dropped service hours because of a lack of staff and supplies.

“I think this grant was also a catalyst for others,” Nolan said. “When people saw UMCOR respond, and they saw us helping ourselves, then others contacted us, and they stepped up and helped with in-kind food and diaper donations, so we were able to meet the increased demand for three months. And it really was beautiful to see so many different partners.”

To hear firsthand from Tracy Nolan of Red Bird Mission, watch this short clip taken from the interview conducted for this story.

Henderson Settlement

About an hour’s drive southwest of Red Bird Mission, Henderson Settlement, in Frakes, Kentucky, has also found ways to reach more people during the pandemic. Founded in 1923 by Hiram Frakes, a Methodist pastor, Henderson serves people in three counties in Kentucky and two in Tennessee. Henderson also affiliated with Global Ministries through the former Evangelical United Brethren Church.

A direct result of COVID-19 has been that Henderson had to lay off 40 out of 50 staff members. With 50 employees, Henderson was the largest employer in its area. James Knight, the ministry’s executive director, acknowledged the hardship in a letter to constituents, but also urged people to shift their inward focus on fear and self-preservation to an outward focus on the impact the situation is having on others.

A family picks up summer daycamp meals, without the daycamp, at Henderson Settlement. No time wasted digging in!

“Those among us with the least resources to weather a storm are typically the most dramatically impacted by it,” Knight said.

Tammy Teague, the director of Henderson Settlement’s Community Outreach program, said Henderson is focused on continuing the essential ministries that meet the needs of area residents at this time: the food pantry, senior meal delivery, the baby pantry and feeding the children who would normally receive meals at summer day camp, which was cancelled.

The summer feeding program is now producing 330 meals a day, distributed at four different sites in several communities, to make sure children are getting enough to eat.

The Henderson Senior Center also had to shut down. But the Henderson staff cooks and prepares food, packages it in containers, and then volunteers deliver the containers to seniors in their communities.

“This is a way for us to give the seniors hot meals and ask if they need anything. It gives us peace of mind and gives them peace of mind, knowing someone cares and looks out for them,” Teague said. They wear masks and gloves to protect the seniors. The UMCOR grant will be used mainly to expand the senior meal delivery and to help community members who need assistance with utilities and paying other bills.

Part II in a two-part series.

Christie R. House is a consultant in writing and editing with Global Ministries.