Church volunteers say community outreach to families is ‘a balm for our souls’
by the Rev. Matt Curry | Special to Presbyterian News Service
AUSTIN, Texas — Perhaps you have heard of diaper drives. But have you ever heard of a diaper drive-in?
Hope Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, has both.
A community need recently prompted a call for members to drop off diaper donations at the church weekly. Each Monday, as many as 25 cars drive through and pick up the diapers without anyone having to get out of the vehicle.
Reaching out during the global pandemic has not only blessed neighbors of the church, but church members as well. Since weekly worship is now online, church volunteers who have missed seeing one another on Sundays find joy in being together on Mondays — even if from a six-foot distance and behind protective masks.
“We feel like this has been a bit of a balm for our souls,” said Sally Cripe, a mission elder.
Hope Presbyterian Church, a 425-member congregation in north Austin, is among churches throughout the Synod of the Sun that are finding creative ways to make connections with their members and the people they serve, despite challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
For servants looking for a way to serve, the stay-at-home order has been difficult, said the Rev. Josh Robinson, Hope’s pastor for more than six years.
Initially, church leaders considered food donations to help their partner, Hill Country Community Ministries, a nonprofit coalition of churches that provides food, clothing and crisis assistance for people in need throughout southwest Williamson and northwest Travis counties.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the agency had become unable to operate its food pantry at its headquarters, which was too small to maintain social distancing. Hope, a member of Mission Presbytery, saw this as an opportunity to help, but learned that other partner churches had already taken on food distribution roles for the pantry.
HCCM asked Hope if it would be willing to be a diaper distribution point for the pantry’s clients instead.
“When we were hit with COVID-19, our pantry went mobile with food, but we kept getting questions about the diapers,” said Tiesa Hollaway, executive director of HCCM. “People wanted to know where they could get diapers.”
Hope quickly shifted its usual focus from collecting food for the pantry to gathering diaper supplies for babies and adults. The yellow box kept inside the church for food donations is rolled outside each day, allowing members to drop off the supplies at their convenience. The fellowship hall, filled in more “normal” times with people, now looks like a warehouse for diapers for HCCM clients and others in the community who need a little help during this health crisis.
“My father was a United States Marine,” Robinson said. “When I was younger and would face a challenge, Dad would say to me, ‘Son, you have to improvise, adapt and overcome.’ Truly that is the call of the Christian church in this day.”
“It’s a great partnership, and it works very well,” Hollaway said. “If it wasn’t for our churches, we would have had to shut our doors. Our clients are very grateful.”
Church members are urged not to make an extra trip to the store to collect the diapers, but to grab them only if they are already out making other grocery pickups. The distribution, which includes donations from the Austin Diaper Bank, began April 27 and is scheduled to continue at least through June. No one is turned away.
“Our first week was kind of testing the waters, finding out what kind of demand there would be,” Cripe said. It was slow-going on that first Monday, she said, but business picked up when information about the diaper drive-in was shared with a nearby elementary school. The diaper effort also is being promoted in the church’s newsletter and on social media.
Church volunteers staffing the drive-through pickup wear masks and use walkie-talkies to communicate with workers inside the fellowship hall, requesting the size of diapers to be brought to the pickup area. The church also distributes portable fans as needed.
“It’s been enriching to see the Holy Spirit at work within these Christians who are so eager to serve God and serve others,” Robinson said. “Our natural orientation is to give, and when we’re pointed in the right direction, the Holy Spirit unleashes a transforming power that is amazing to behold.”
Looking ahead to Synod Sunday in late August, the Rev. Matt Curry is searching for good news from ministries throughout the Synod of the Sun. If you have an innovative idea of inspirational church-community outreach in these extraordinary times, find him on Twitter at @PresbyMatt or call or text 817-929-4615. This year’s Scripture theme for Synod Sunday is “[We] remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). The Synod of the Sun includes more than 157,000 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in approximately 800 congregations and 11 presbyteries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
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Categories: Faith & Worship, Matthew 25
Tags: austin, Austin Diaper Bank, Carol Wada, community service, coronavirus, covid-19, diaper drive-in, Good News Stories, HCCM, Hill Country Community Ministries, hope presbyterian church, John Seamon, Matt Curry, matthew 25, mission, mission presbytery, Nancy Bruno, outreach, pandemic, poverty, Rev. Josh Robinson, Sally Cripe, Scott Seamon, synod of the sun, Synod Sunday, texas, Tiesa Hollaway
Ministries: Theology and Worship, Vital Congregations, Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement