By Carol A. Boyer
A community partnership was born as a result of a small church’s outreach to an often invisible and underserved community in the small town of Montesano. As the pandemic hit in March 2020, my part-time work with the Montesano School District as a Spanish language interpreter changed from school-driven conferences and IEPs to the basics of home-school communications, food, clothing, diapers, rent, electricity, the mysteries of Wi-Fi and technology and home repair.
Within two weeks of the quarantine, the local Kelsey Foundation of Montesano asked the Montesano United Methodist Church to be the administrators of a grant that would benefit families in need from our local school district by purchasing and delivering gift cards and certificates from local businesses. The Montesano Education Association became our partner in identifying families in need as well as collecting and distributing needed items. At this early point in the pandemic, nearly all of the identified 20 families had no source of income. Many of the men were formerly employed as salal cutters and the women as domestics and agricultural workers.
By the end of May 2020, we realized the generous funding from the Kelsey Foundation was not going to be able to sustain these families much longer. A call went out to church members, teachers, family, friends and neighbors telling of the great need. Many people donated their stimulus checks; others began giving regularly to the “Mission Now” fund. As much as the church’s entire yearly budget was raised and distributed to support over 100 people for more than a year.
The Lord’s Pantry at Foursquare Church in Central Park allowed us to shop for our families and we began twice-a-month deliveries of food, fresh fruit and vegetables. We also provided gift certificates for other necessities, like soap and diapers. In addition, we purchased culturally appropriate foods not available at the food bank. Every family received Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and gift cards for the parents to buy gifts for their children.
The men of the church have fixed dishwashers and refrigerators, replaced windows, repaired roofs, and dealt with clogged toilets and black mold. They have found donations of used appliances, beds and furniture, and helped sell cars.
Some of our church families have become adopted abuelitos (grandparents) to large families with young children. Teachers have donated clothing, blankets and diapers and the Elma Timberland Library provided monthly hands-on science kits for each family.
Other volunteers helped more than 50 people apply for Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund grants and 30 families apply for PUD grants. In addition, the Grays Harbor County Public Health Department agreed to hold two vaccination clinics in the church’s sport court. Fifteen more people are now fully vaccinated.
How did a small rural church with an average Sunday attendance of 30 people manage to do all this?
It all goes back to the example of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, and his teachings about the poor, specifically in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in the Gospel of Mathew.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you have done (or not) unto the least of these you have done (or not) unto me” (v. 40, 45).
“This was the main reason that Wesley continually encouraged the Methodists to give sacrificially to the poor and to seek out solidarity with the poor by spending time with them, eating with them, and fasting and begging on their behalf.” – Viewpoint Magazine June 1, 2011
Here was the difference: A small church and their friends spent time with a group of people they likely would have never met in normal circumstances. Friendships and trust were formed. They visited (safely outside their homes), met the children, listened, learned, laughed and occasionally cried with them. In other words, they were truly community partners.
Carol A. Boyer is a member of the Montesano United Methodist Church in Montesano, Washington. A Spanish speaker, Boyer works closely with the families.