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‘We’re all in this together’

Coronavirus pandemic heightens the needs of the most vulnerable

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Remembering “the least of these” takes on greater significance during the coronavirus pandemic.

With many Americans losing the ability to work, school being canceled for millions of children, and childcare centers being shuttered in many places, the challenges of people already living on or near the edge of society become magnified.

“We can pretty much guarantee that there will be heightened food insecurity,” said the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and “we probably all know people already who have been laid off or can’t have as many hours or are told not to come into their shifts.”

Partners of the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People work on these kinds of issues throughout the year, but the current crisis — brought on by the coronavirus — has fueled discussion from Capitol Hill to Kentucky to California about how to help those in need.

The Rev. Rebecca Barnes is coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (Photo by Rick Jones)

“I’m thankful for the conversations opening up,” Barnes said. “People are using the phrase, ‘We’re all in this together.’ Well, that’s always been true, but we don’t always act like that. This is a great invitation for us to really examine some of the policies and systems we have in place. Are we really ready to figure out how it is that we are in community together, how we’re a country together and how we take care of the most vulnerable?”

On Friday the U.S. House of Representatives was set to consider a massive stimulus bill and state and local governments as well as churches, charities and the private sector are coming up with ways to help people facing economic hardships because of the coronavirus.

“People are trying to respond the best way they can,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson is coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People. (Photo by Rich Copley)

But, even with federal aid likely on the way, there’s still plenty more for individuals or organizations to do, particularly at the advocacy level. So the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace & Justice Ministry has put together a list of resources to help people continue to do social justice work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We must remember that COVID-19 is an added burden to those who already struggle to survive, those who theologian Howard Thurman characterizes as people ‘with their backs against the wall,’” Johnson said.

Some populations to think about as more and more restrictions are put into place in various U.S. communities to reduce the spread of the virus:

  • People who may have a harder time paying their rent or utility bills.
  • Children lacking the structure, protection and meals that schools provide.
  • Families on public assistance.
  • People who are living in communities with contaminated water during a period when Americans are being told to wash their hands more.
  • Inmates in overcrowded prisons.
  • Homeless people without access to hand sanitizer or running water or who must rely on sometimes overcrowded shelters.
  • Isolated seniors who may need groceries dropped off or to receive a “thinking of you” card in the mail.

From connecting with advocacy groups, such as the Poor People’s Campaign and We the People of Detroit, to contacting your local food pantry, to finding creative ways to volunteer, there are ways to fulfill the church’s Matthew 25 mission to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, Barnes said, “we’re not going out to all these places to eat and to entertain ourselves. Are there things we can be doing for the community?”

One Great Hour of Sharing supports the Presbyterian Hunger Program in its work to alleviate hunger and eliminate its root causes, and to support Self-Development of People as it works to transform lives.

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