The coronavirus pandemic that paralyzed worldwide activities has had a tremendous impact on churches, families, communities, and lifestyles. The Northeast region of the U.S. was particularly affected to the degree that New York state was declared an epicenter of the virus. Along with hundreds of our church members who died from the coronavirus, we lost two of our Adventist Community Services directors in the NYC metropolitan area. We are still of good courage. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:9, we see the current situation as an open door to do great work for the Lord.
The North American Division (NAD) and the Atlantic Union Conference Adventist Community Services (ACS) departments have been supporting the operation of ACS food pantries in churches. The NAD allocated a grant of $25,000 per conference for relief efforts. So far, every conference in the Atlantic Union has received this allocated amount. As the needs were going up day by day, the Atlantic Union also allocated $150,000 to help food-pantry projects throughout its territory. This financial assistance was distributed among the conferences as follows: Northeastern: $55,000; Greater New York: $40,000; Southern New England: $20,000; New York: $15,000; Northern New England: $10,000; and Bermuda: $10,000.
As the pandemic became more severe in NYC, people were dying and others were losing their jobs and were looking for food to survive. Conference ACS leaders, especially in Northeastern and Greater New York, decided to join efforts to respond to some of the needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several other departments, including Health Ministries, Family Ministries, IT Services, and Communication, joined ACS and developed the Seventh-day Adventist COVID-19 Response Task Force. The purpose of the task force is “to support our church members and their communities in locating necessary services and accurate information based on their specific needs.”
While ACS provides information about food pantries and soup kitchens operated by the NEC and GNYC churches where people in need can get assistance, Health Ministries addresses many concerns people have about COVID-19. Some concerns include how to avoid getting the virus, and, if they do contract it, how they can mitigate its effects.
Family Ministries provides services in two areas: a daily hotline for spiritual and mental health support, and biweekly webinars for relational and interpersonal education and empowerment. The task force hotline is designed to address emotional, spiritual, physical, and clinical needs of the people in New York and New England.
Based on the needs expressed by the task force, IT Services prepared a COVID-19 Hotline Response System, similar to a telephone hotline featuring Inbound IVR (Interactive Voice Response) that allows for the routing of calls to three or four language-group extensions. Each extension is staffed with personnel who take basic information from callers, including their name, mobile number, e-mail address, reason for call/need, and preferred time for a call-back.
The hotline service also includes second-level associate workers who have online resources to ensure all information is consistent. Included among the resource information are the soup kitchen addresses, hours of operations, how to get financial assistance, COVID-19 best practices and preventative measures, websites, and the times for webinars.
The Communication department’s role is vital in disseminating the information for assistance, counseling, webinars, and contact for church members and the community-at-large, all of whom can benefit from our efforts. The communication ministry’s goal is to ensure that the information is presented and accessible on all of the social media platforms (conference websites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) through attractively designed flyers, video presentations, and clearly-listed ways to let people know how to get in contact with their needed resource.
Together, the NEC and GNYC are serving NYC and its surrounding counties and cities with more than 85 food pantries (53 in NEC and 32 in GNYC), as well as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In some places, the demand has more than doubled. Bermuda Conference has reported more than 11 food pantries and Southern New England Conference has 14.
We are taking this opportunity to express our gratitude to all the conference leaders, who are finding ways to better serve the community as a result of the impact of COVID-19. The Atlantic Union Conference Executive Committee, in its May meeting, voted to register its appreciation to all the ACS conference leaders and their teams serving on the frontline of this pandemic. We thank you all for being the heart, hands, and feet of our Savior, Jesus.