Compassion Fuels Indiana Church’s Community Center through Crisis
By Julie Campbell
Imagine losing your job in the middle of a global pandemic and not being able to provide food for your family. For many Americans, this is no longer just a worst-case scenario; it’s a reality of daily life. Since the 1960s, the Park Place Community Center Food Pantry, a ministry of Park Place Church of God, has been helping to ease food insecurity within its community in the heart of Anderson, Indiana. But 2020—and COVID-19—has brought challenges unlike any other year.
“In the last two months, we have averaged 800 families per month that receive food,” explained Blake Alford, food pantry and programming coordinator of the Park Place Community Center. “This is about a 300-plus family increase since the beginning of March when COVID-19 regulations began.”
Although the current pandemic has changed the way the food pantry operates, it hasn’t changed the compassion the volunteers show to the community.
“Our pantry has moved to an emergency drive-through model, which reduces contact and increases speed of food pick-up time,” said Alford. “We recognized the need to keep both our pantry volunteers and visiting neighbors safe. This model has been very successful in its safety, as well as effectiveness of serving those facing food shortage in our community.”
As more people experience food insecurity due to the pandemic, the needs of the food pantry have grown.
“Right now, we really need canned fruits, vegetables, and soups,” explained Alford. “With the significant increase in food shortage in our community, we’re having a difficult time stocking these shelf-stable items. Those interested in donating may contact Park Place Church of God for further instructions.”
In addition to the food pantry, the other major service offered by the church is the After-School Fun Program, which serves elementary students and intermediate school students from Anderson Community Schools. To abide by CDC social distancing regulations, the program has shifted its focus to more one-on-one tutoring each day.
“We also have limited our enrollment in our After-School Fun Program to maximize safety for our volunteers, staff, and students,” said Alford. “More of our students are behind in their schoolwork than previous years, so this model often works in our favor.”
For Alford, coordinating these programs has given him more compassion for the people he serves.
“I am always learning something new and opening my eyes wider to God’s beauty in people, as well as a deeper understanding of the pain many of them face,” he said.
To ease some of that pain and create community even in the midst of the pandemic, the center held its annual Fall Block Party on October 31, which included a trunk-and-treat, and some socially distanced games for the kids. Masks were required to attend the event.
Jonathan Grubbs, who assumed the lead pastor position at Park Place just as the pandemic lockdowns began in Anderson, said he hopes the community feels the love of God and of the volunteers who serve at the center.
“We just want to be a good neighbor. Our goal is simply coming alongside persons to assist them with the challenges and hardships of life,” he explained. “I hope the Community Center is a tangible reminder to our neighbors that they are not alone in their struggles. I want them to know that there is a God (and people) who want to be caringly involved in their lives.”
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Julie Campbell is an editor at Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) and a freelance journalist. A former city girl from Chicago, she enjoys country life with her husband, Russ, on a five-acre apple orchard in Madison County, Indiana. She is a blessed mom of three wonderful young adult children and one very spoiled white boxer.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.