by Steve Lestarjette
These unheralded outreach ministries touch individuals and families, and are making a big difference in our community. Most are envisioned, funded and served by unpaid volunteers whose sole motivation is to “give back” a portion of their good fortune to those who need it most.
Like the congregations themselves, outreach ministries come in different shapes and sizes. Most, however, are designed to serve a specific need in the immediate vicinity. One church in an area populated by the homeless provides shelter and clothing. Another serves food. Several are dedicated to helping unwed mothers, runaways, or battered women. Another offers job networking for the unemployed. The list is virtually endless.
Besides the compassion that spawned them, these amazing operations — which touch thousands of families in the greater Bay Area — have another characteristic in common. None receive a dime in federal or state funds, which makes the quality, sustainability and comprehensiveness of these programs even more remarkable.
Case in point: CT Church at 9701 Almeda Genoa Road has held a community Back-to-School Health Fair the first Saturday in August for the past 10 years. The event draws nearly 5,500 moms and dads with school-age children to the church campus to receive much-needed school supplies and health screenings they might not otherwise afford.
Services include immunizations, eye exams, dental screenings, scoliosis and chiropractic screenings, haircuts, and fingerprinting.
There’s much more. On Aug. 3, more than 350 hearty volunteers endured oven-hot temperatures to distribute 4,000 bags of school supplies and more than 70,000 pounds of groceries. Lines of people began forming more than two hours before doors opened. Of those served, more than 3,600 were children.
Special applause goes to Todays Vision for more than 350 eye exams, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van for Children which immunized 300 children, San Jacinto College Central cosmetology students for 300 haircuts, Sam’s HEARING for 275 screenings, It’Z Family Fun & Food for feeding 1,200, and Grocers Supply for helping another 100.
The Houston Police Department, along with its mounted patrol and K-9 unit, did the fingerprinting.
Other vendors offering services, entertainment or “boots on the ground” included AFLAC, World Financial Group, Nerium International, and Hard Hats.
Because of its partnership with the McKinney Group through the Pasadena Independent School District, the health fair’s special touch reached 216 homeless people, of which 136 were children.
All services and gifts were absolutely free — with no strings attached — to those who came by needing them.
“We realize neighborhoods around the church are changing demographically,” said event coordinator and associate pastor Susan Nordin. “We want to see that every child goes back to school healthier, with a full backpack of supplies, ready for the new school year.”
Is it making a difference? Pastor Susan says many families write letters or come by later to express their gratitude. Quite a few, she reports, say they experience a “sense of family” and acceptance through the outreach. Of these, many return to adopt the CT family as their own “community of faith.”
“As I walk around campus during the health fair, I witness doctors, nurses, community organizers, nutritionists, educators, volunteers, pastors and teachers working tirelessly together for the community’s improved health. I get to see my church integrally woven into the fabric of the community’s identity and goals. There are few things more powerful than the feeling of contributing to a much larger whole,” she says.
Serving others is at the heart of it, Susan Nordin says.
“As we serve our community in meaningful ways, we are ambassadors of God and reflect His love, compassion and character to those being served. The health fair is one way we can do that. Through this single event, we have seen many lives changed. As long as we can make that kind of difference, we’ll keep going.”