Making the shift to COVID-reality ministry: Riverton Park UMC

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A Tukwila Pantry Food Bank volunteer models Christmas giving outside Riverton Park UMC.

GNW Comm. staff and Rev. Jan Bolerjack

When COVID-19 brought in-person worship to a screeching halt, it didn’t halt the community-focused work of many local churches. The doors remained open for Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila, Wash., as the church helped serve the most vulnerable in south King County in new and unique ways.

Here, Rev. Jan Bolerjack reflects on some of the things they’ve done in hopes of inspiring other churches to see the potential they have to continue to provide outreach ministries even as this pandemic rages on.

“The most vulnerable found safety and community, food and shelter, vaccines and dental care, rental assistance, clothing and household goods, and a welcome that many others didn’t feel they could offer,” Bolerjack writes. “And we did it without any known cases of COVID.”

Here she lists a few ways Riverton Park UMC has reached new people during a time of unprecedented need.

  • Tukwila Pantry. Before the pandemic, the pantry used an indoor shopping model where clients could peruse shelves and choose their food. The pandemic hit, and everything shifted quickly to an outdoor drive-through model. Numbers went from 250 families per week to 1,200 families per week. The numbers now have leveled off to about 900 families per week, still with a drive-through service. We also added a delivery service through DoorDash.

    We have received many financial donations to support this work, but the highlight was a $100,000 grant from the Lowe’s Corporation to build a large, covered area at the back of the church. We can now deliver goods into cars without getting rained on.
  • Donation Center. In response to several large apartment fires in the area last summer, we opened the sanctuary to collect and distribute household goods and clothing to fire victims. The donation center continues to operate, serving families and recent Afghan refugees. Working with World Relief and the International Rescue Committee, new refugees come to get a supply of clothing, linens, kitchenware, and so much more. Community members from Tukwila, Seatac, Burien and beyond bring goods to us that are sorted and given away for free.
  • Drop-in Warming/Cooling/Recharging Center. Although RPUMC has always been known as a place where the most vulnerable can find a place to be, this became even more essential during the pandemic. Like McDonalds and the library, many local hangouts were closed (including their restrooms). Folks who mostly live outdoors needed a place to charge their phones, heat food, and even sit in a chair. With masks and generous spacing, RPUMC became a hub for many locked out of their usual places. The number of car campers and tent campers also increased due to the available access to restrooms. Food and toiletries were also always available.
  • Eviction Prevention and Best Starts for Kids. In conjunction with King County, RPUMC has distributed $5M in rental assistance to community members at risk for eviction. There are several million dollars on our contract yet to be dispersed. Through a dedicated staff of 15 persons, we have connected and served, remotely and in person, many families with case management, food delivery when in quarantine, and other essentials such as diapers, coats, etc.

“Opportunities for outreach that make a difference vary from place to place. I’m thankful for the bold creativity and resilient spirit that flows through RPUMC and the many who are connected to the services here,” she writes. “Thanks be to God.”

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