By: Christa Meland
Minnesota United Methodist churches continue to play a key role in meeting vital needs and rebuilding the Twin Cities following the May 25 death of George Floyd and the subsequent riots that closed businesses and limited neighbors’ access to essential supplies at a time when many were already struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While some congregations are collecting food, pet supplies, and essentials, others are attending to mental health needs and engaging in community-building efforts.
Collecting food and other essentials
On Wednesday, Park Avenue UMC and Iglesia Piedra Viva in Minneapolis, and Messiah UMC in Plymouth, assisted with a food giveaway and resource fair in Park Avenue’s parking lot. In addition to providing free produce, diapers, and other essentials to 130 families, ministry and community partners also offered medical and legal resources to anyone who needed them.
Rev. Gregg Taylor, who moved to Minneapolis May 19 to become the church’s senior pastor, pointed out that many community members have experienced “trauma on top of trauma” in recent months as they’ve navigated the pandemic and then the killing of Floyd and its aftermath. “We’re trying to figure out how to engage in crisis assistance immediately but also in terms of long-term sustainability,” he said. The food giveaway and resource fair will likely become a monthly event.
Last weekend, Aldersgate UMC in St. Louis Park also collected food and other essential supplies for impacted families in the Twin Cities’ core.
Since 2018, the church has been working with The Sheridan Story, which works to fight hunger locally by filling the gaps to food access that children face during weekends, summers and extended breaks. When Rev. Paul Baudhuin learned that the organization was having a food drive at its warehouse to meet demand, he offered to make Aldersgate a drop-off site and invited the community to donate over a three-hour period last Saturday.
“We knew our best bet at helping was not to drum up something on our own but find a way to support an organization already on the ground,” he said. “Knowing that many folks at Aldersgate have been wanting to find ways to serve and be active in the world, but the opportunities have been extremely limited because of stay-at-home efforts, I knew we could get a significant amount of volunteers to help with this.”
With just two days of advanced notice, members of both the church and community brought donations that resulted in 10 full vehicles jam-packed with food and diapers.
Lake Harriet UMC in Minneapolis has taken another approach to meeting needs. While there has been a great community outpouring for food, diapers, and other items, one church member pointed out that some families need help caring for their pets. So last Saturday, over a three-hour period, the church collected dog and cat food, cat litter, leashes, collars, pet waste bags, and other items that would be helpful to pet owners. Donations were given to Joyce Food Shelf and a variety of other organizations to distribute to those who need them.
Rev. Karen Bruins said the church filled a U-Haul truck and an SUV with donations. Twenty-five church volunteers received and packed up 235 bags of dog food, 115 bags of cat food, more than 700 cans of cat food, and many more supplies. Another pet supply drive will occur in the church parking lot June 20.
Attending to mental health
Aside from food and essential supply needs, the mental health of residents in the cities’ urban core has also been identified as a key concern—so some churches have stepped up to provide assistance in that arena.
Ayanna Hagness Duren, a licensed therapist and mom of two in St. Paul, has been putting together mental health bags for children in areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul where stores were looted and set on fire. She developed bags for several different age groups, from 3 years old through eighth grade. Each contains a book with an African American child as the lead character, a notebook to draw or write down feelings, games or toys, a water bottle and a stuffed animal.
When Rev. Dr. Ronald Bell Jr., lead pastor of Camphor Memorial UMC in St. Paul, learned about this effort, he immediately called Hagness Duren and said, “Camphor is in.” Volunteers from the church have now helped her pack hundreds of bags.
Bell has two young sons and told KSTP-TV that one of the worst moments he’s had as a parent was explaining to them how George Floyd died.
“Watching their facial expressions as they tried to reconcile how an innocent man could be killed by police was heart-wrenching both for me and traumatizing for them,” he said. “My 8-year-old started to cry, my 5-year-old just didn’t understand and kept asking over and over again, ‘What do you mean? He was innocent, he was innocent,’ and so we had to sit there and really be in that moment.”
He said there are thousands of children in the church’s neighborhood trying to grapple with the same questions and how to respond. The church’s participation in Hagness Duren’s effort is “to remind them that we see you, …you matter to us, you are valuable to us, we love you.”
Aside from collecting and distributing food and supplies, Park Avenue UMC recently created a prayer garden and installed a mural on the side of its building as a gift to the community. A member of the church created the mural, which depicts George Floyd with the words “Breathe Love” just below.
While the prayer garden is a place for people to come pray, meditate, and grieve, the mural is “a way to mark and remember what happened in history,” said Taylor. “Part of the process, I think, of repairing relationships with the black community is that we do not forget to remember and we walk alongside folks. The mural reminds us that we are called to ongoing acts of justice in the neighborhood and community.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church