In the summer of 2017 a local Springfield congregation, Grace United Methodist Church, began looking for partners to help meet critical needs of friends and neighbors who were street-dependent. A local organization that had once served our friends and neighbors who are under resourced was no longer running, and the church realized there was an opportunity to serve the Springfield community. After some conversation with neighborhood churches, one National Avenue Christian Church member, Susan Wheeler learned that Grace was serving meals for the community on Wednesday nights.
NACC, along with other organizations in the community were looking to do the same thing Grace was already doing in their space, and after gauging interest from community partners, the meal offerings were expanded to three nights per week, with National Avenue Christian Church committing to feeding folks every Monday night.
One of the first questions NACC Justice Collaborative asks before beginning any project is: How is this project supporting long-term efforts to alleviate needs and create a systemic change? Several members of NACC were a part of serving meals at the now-defunct Bill’s Place on a weekly basis. They discovered that showing up for neighbors who are street dependent on a regular basis was one of the ways they felt they were following the way of Jesus. By setting the table and creating a space for people to come together, something incredible happened. At the table, people had the opportunity to get to know one another. The community at NACC was extremely responsive and excited to have an opportunity to work with other congregations and prepare the table on a weekly basis.
This past Advent season, Susan noticed that Christmas Eve fell on a Monday, which gave her another idea: What if we invited the congregation to collect gift bags for our friends? What if we collected the most practical things we know our friends need and give those gifts this year?
For the entire month of December, the congregation brought socks, foot powder, band-aids, chocolate, and more. One member asked her Order of Eagles group to offer financial support to be sure we would have more than enough bags for each friend who would be with us on Christmas Eve. The Sunday before Christmas Eve, the children came together to help package 115 gift bags.
There are still several systemic issues to address as we consider what contributes to food insecurity and homelessness. But by being at the table and developing relationships with our friends and neighbors, we are better equipped to do this work together. It builds bridges and creates community, one meal at a time.
Thank you to NACC’s Hayley Norton and pastors Jenn Simmons and
Kevin Cravens-Koch for this story and photo.