By: Christa Meland
United Methodist churches across Minnesota have cared for their neighbors near and far in recent months by making and distributing face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
By the end of May, 22 churches that reported in had already made more than 9,000 masks and counting—and many other congregations have also joined the effort. As we prepare for the 2020 virtual Annual Conference next month, congregations of all sizes have already embraced this year’s theme “Be the Light: Live Hope!” in a tangible way.
“2020 has been a tough year,” said Rev. Lyndy Zabel, director of missional impact and community engagement, who has spearheaded the conference’s “Masks for Minnesota” initiative. “People have experienced hardship in numerous ways. We need kindness more than ever. Kindness is anything we do to benefit others—and making, donating and wearing masks is one small way to show it. The life of faith is one spent following Jesus, and that means loving our neighbor.”
Masks made by churches have been distributed to a wide variety of groups—local businesses, schools, hospitals, veterans, soldiers, nursing homes, senior living facilities, children receiving social services, the homeless, and others.
Gilbert Community Church partnered with its local post office to distribute masks to community members asking postal workers where to find them.
A large portion of the masks made by St. Paul’s UMC in Mendota Heights went to a housing complex where one of its members lives, and others went to the cleaning service for the church that employs developmentally challenged individuals.
Before the pandemic, members of Dodge Center UMC had been making and distributing fidget blankets—which provide sensory and tactile stimulation for the restless hands of those with dementia or autism. But when COVID-19 hit Minnesota, they switched to making masks. They put a box on the railing near the front door of the church building and spread the word that masks were there for anyone who needed them. The church donated masks to local hospitals as well.
Meanwhile, masks made by members of The Grove UMC in Woodbury made their way across the country.
“Because of a connection through our Core Team leader we became aware of the Pinon Health Center, located in the middle of the Navajo Nation in Arizona,” said Carolyn Winslow, director of caring ministries for The Grove UMC in Woodbury. “We learned that medical personnel at this clinic, and throughout the Navajo Nation, have been desperately in need of [personal protective equipment]. We have donated masks to this clinic and have made new acquaintances in the process!”
At some churches, sewing masks has been an inter-generational endeavor with all ages participating.
“We had several women working to make masks, from senior citizens down to a 12-year-old,” said LaFonda Shreve, administrative assistant at Osseo UMC. “They were very diligent, and every time we'd run out of masks, they would be quick to respond. We reached out to four senior living facilities in our neighborhood and they were always grateful for our supply. One time I mentioned to the nursing home administrator that we were having trouble finding elastic. So her mother offered us her elastic if we would keep making masks for them. I love the community partnerships!”
Some churches, through their efforts, donated more than just masks.
A member of Faith UMC in Eyota made hundreds of masks for community members and health care facilities that needed them. Rather than taking any compensation, she asked for donations to the local food pantry and collected nearly $1,000.
Meanwhile, some churches have met very specific needs while making masks. For example, Karen Greenwald, a member of Bethel UMC in Mound, has made masks with clear windows for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Thank you to each and every church that’s being the light and living hope in this challenging season!
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church