SPOTLIGHT: It all Started With Toilet Paper

SPOTLIGHT: It all Started With Toilet Paper

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N. Dartmouth Church Helps Feed Hundreds During Pandemic

The communities of Groveland and Haverhill were encouraged to drive to the parking lot and tune into FM 90.3 for Sunday worship from the safety of their cars.
When Scott Stubbs, moderator of Smith Mills Christian Congregational Church in N. Dartmouth, MA, realized that the church had just received two cases of toilet paper that they wouldn’t be using in the near future, he asked his wife Martha (Smith Mills Christian Congregational Churches pastoral assistant) to reach out to the director of the elderly housing complex down the street, and see if they needed them. The church has partnered with them in the past for soup deliveries, and over the years several of the 80+ residents had attended Smith Mills so it was appropriate to offer the bathroom supplies during the recent shortage.
 
When they declined the offer because they did not want anyone entering the facility during the Covid-19 pandemic, Stubbs didn’t give up.  He contacted the facility again and spoke to the director about utilizing the church’s food pantry. The director said she would point residents to them if she heard of people in need of food. 

He rallied his fellow church members and also reached out to the other churches who shared the same church building, and they offered monetary donations, groceries, and most importantly volunteers.  They all worked together to help ensure they had enough food on hand, and contacted people in his network with the knowledge to develop guidelines to ensure appropriate cleaning protocols were followed throughout the process. Other churches in the area also stepped up and joined the group, which has now grown to over 30 folks.  This new ministry, named Dartmouth United Outreach, includes partners from the UCC, bilingual, Haitian, Bible, and other churches in the area.

Word was sent out via social media and people donated in droves. Tables were put out at the church during certain times so people could drive up and drop donated items on the table without getting out of their cars. A volunteer – dressed in the appropriate protective gear including mask and gloves –would then bring the donations to a cleaning room where all items were properly sanitized before being bagged. Each bag contained staples like oatmeal, bananas, apples, non-perishables, ready-to-eat meals, and toiletries. They also included loaves of bread donated by a local bakery.

The team assembled 200 bags of groceries and informed the elderly facility. Unfortunately, only 20-25 residents picked up the donations. Stubbs, who is dealing with his own serious health issues, worried that some of these residents were not physically able to get to their church building or to a store, so he came up with a plan to give out supplies to those who could not do shopping themselves. The volunteers, with permission from and escorted by the residence director, went to the facility and dropped off the bags at each resident’s door. The volunteers followed rules of engagement and spacing protocols; and all doors were outside, so they did not have to enter any residence or common area to deliver the bags.

When they still had an abundance of groceries left, the director told them of a second facility that she was involved in, as well as a veterans’ home that was in the area.  The team went on the move and distributed items in cooperation with the Dartmouth Council on Aging and the Dartmouth Housing Authority, which  houses seniors, persons with disabilities, and veterans. 

Nancy, a resident of the facility thanked the church on Facebook: “I want to thank you so very much for the care package I just received. I hit my knees to praise God—I knew He’d provide—because He is my Lord and Savior; I never worry. But, I still have tears and awe at how He does it. I want to thank all who donated and sacrificed their time, supplies, money, foods, and toilet paper (TP is like gold and hard to find now), and I also want to thank all who sacrificed their safety to deliver this relief to me and my neighbors here today… I know they’re all grateful, as am I! Praise God from whom all blessings flow, and God bless all of you … who participated.”

One disabled veteran said he felt great relief after receiving the delivery as he couldn’t risk leaving his house.

Stubbs is amazed at how quickly the team was able to actually make a difference during the pandemic.  “We very quickly put together a group of people who each have tasks to do,” he said. “It blows me away how God works, and it shouldn’t.  It seems everyone who volunteered has a specific gift we needed so things were able to develop quickly.  Whether it’s finance, safety protocols, or technology knowledge, we seemed to get what we needed.  Even when a freezer that needed some repairs was donated, we had an experienced refrigeration person on the team.”

The program has become such a success, they are getting more and more donations, and more and more calls from families asking for help. They now deliver the bags of groceries weekly to the director of the facilities, who will then deliver to each door.  That frees up time for the Dartmouth United Outreach group to deliver to others in the area in need of help. The team meets daily via Zoom video conferencing to coordinate the program.

“So many people want to help, it’s so touching. It’s amazing how people come together, said Stubbs. “But at the same time, it is also sad because there are people out there in real need during this crisis.”

One mom was brought to tears when the team was able to drop off a cake, present, balloon, and other groceries for her 11-year old who would otherwise not have gotten anything for his birthday because most of the family members were in quarantine. The volunteer who bought and dropped off the items said everyone was crying, because it was both heart-warming and sad.

The team is now getting emails and phone calls outside their immediate area, so the team wants to be able to build up the delivery mechanism, then vet people, and train them on protocols – which Stubbs believes is one of the most important things to do.

“Everything you do, every person you meet could potentially kill you or your family or you could kill them.  You have to operate according to the protocols and safety measures needed all along the way. You can’t have a break in the chain anywhere. If you mess up, it could cost you or someone else big time. That’s why we have all of these protocols in place that deal with every nuance of the process from the moment the donation is dropped off to the moment it’s delivered, including when showering is necessary.”

The team is connecting with non-profits like the United Way to get bigger donations and additional guidance.  But they are not stopping there.  Stubbs hopes to be able to set up pop-up food pantries at the hospitals, so the essential workers can pick up groceries as they leave the building, and have one less thing to do at the end of their tiring, emotion-filled day.

Stubbs offers this advice for other churches: “Just do it. You’ll figure it out as you go.  Reach out to me, to other churches.  I just started asking who has done this before.  A lot of people with a lot of experience will help you.”

You can contact Scott Stubbs at the church office at (508) 994-6422 or send him a message via their Facebook page.  

You may reprint this story by including the following line in your article:  Reprinted with permission from Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, Spotlight


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Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane

Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane is the Spotlight and Publications Editor for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ

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