Conference, Local Churches, CT Department of Health Partner to Distribute COVID Supplies

Conference, Local Churches, CT Department of Health Partner to Distribute COVID Supplies

Rev. Devale Hodge from Miracle Temple Church of God in Christ of Norwalk and Minister Lisa Marie Sykes form Liberty Christian Center International in Hartford picking up supplies at the SNEUCC Hartford office.
Through a partnership with the Connecticut Department of Health, the Southern New England Conference has been able to distribute 1,500 COVID testing kits and nearly 4,000 N95 masks over the past week in the state's most marginalized communities.

The Conference received the supplies at its Hartford office, and then worked with the following Conference churches and the Silver Lake Camp & Retreat Center to distribute them: Miracle Temple Church of God in Christ of Norwalk, Liberty Christian Center International in Hartford, Faith Congregational Church of Hartford, First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, Manantial de Gracia in West Hartford, First Congregational Church of West Norwalk, United Congregational Church of Bridgeport, United Church on the Green in New Haven, and the Dixwell Avenue United Church of Christ in New Haven.

Angela Balfour, Regional Coordinator for the Department of Health's Health Equity Team, reached out to Executive Conference Minister the Rev. Darrell Goodwin seeking to partner up with churches for the distribution.

“The Health Equity Team within the Department of Public Health was formed to reach out to historically underserved communities including the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, immigrant and ethnic communities, the unhoused, the undocumented and all other socially vulnerable communities. Within these communities, faith-based organizations have a proven track record of leaders who are trusted, who care and who have shown a commitment to the most marginalized within their midst. It is understanding these connections that make the partnership between the health equity team and organizations like the UCC vital to getting kits and masks to those who need them most,” she said.  
“Knowing the denomination’s historical commitment to social justice and equity and the ways in which that aligns with our team’s mission made reaching out to Rev. Goodwin a natural extension of the team’s work. Knowing the UCC’s statewide reach guarantees that through this partnership, those with the most need will receive the test kits and masks in an efficient and equitable way. For the health equity team, this is what faith-based organizations like the UCC do best and why we are pleased to be able to partner in order to serve the needs of Connecticut residents.” 

Rev. Goodwin was thrilled for the opportunity.

"I am beyond grateful for our Area Conference Minister Team for identifying churches and (Executive Assistant) Hillary Sage who has added being a supply distribution center to her job responsibilities," he said. "We are truly Living the Love and Justice of Jesus together."

Churches distributed the supplies through a variety of methods.

"We distributed the majority of the masks to the daycare that is in our facility, and the daycare distributed to each of the families," said Rev. Devale Hodge of Miracle Temple. "We also gave them to members of our congregation, who also distributed them among their family members. We have quite a few persons sick with the Omicron variant in our congregation. We also gave masks and test kits to people that live right in the neighborhood where the church is located."

Other churches distributed them through food banks and other existing programs.

Rev. Shawn Fisher said the supplies received through the Conference supplemented the masks and testing kits that the Bloomfield church has been purchasing and distributing for the past several weeks.

His church has spent $12,000 ordering supplies online and has been distributing them through their Saturday community kitchen program, their child development center, and their backpack program, which provides food every Friday for children to take home to their families. They have also worked with local leaders to discreetly reach out to people in the community who might not otherwise be able to access masks or tests.

Some of the funds came from the community kitchen program, which Rev. Fisher said has a mission to "not just feed stomachs, but to show people in the community that there are people who care about them, whether they are in the worship community or not. They are not alone. Providing these tests was consistent with that mission."

Masks and test kits were distributed to churches through the SNEUCC's Hartford office.
Rev. Fisher said people living on the margins may not have a car to be able to get to a test, or may not be able to take off work to stand in line waiting. They also often cannot afford to buy testing kits, and don't have insurance that will cover them. 

"That inability to get things can really cause fear in people. When you can’t get something really important, it can be really debilitating. Without us expecting anything, we're just trying to help them. And it's not just the people who get the tests, who get the meals, that get reduced fears -- it helps the whole community of Bloomfield. It raises that level of hope in the community just by them knowing we’re doing this for people," he said.

Rev. Fisher said the church also plans to repeat a project they did early in the pandemic - hanging masks on clotheslines between the pillars at the front of the church for people to take. This time, they will be the KN95 masks, rather than the cloth masks offered in the past.

Two years in to responding to the pandemic-related needs of the community, Rev. Fisher said his church is not going to slow down anytime soon.

"For me, and for us, we’re not getting exhausted by this. Each phase takes on a slightly different need. And what we find is what God promises, which is when you actually follow this guy Jesus, things just go better. When you walk in that way that Jesus teaches us, the Holy Spirit shows up. The more closely we do what we’re asked to do – just because we’re asked to do it – the more the Holy Spirit shows up in amazingly remarkable ways. Supplies show up, grants show up, things just show up that allow us to do the work. It's not like it's never-ending and we’re tired. We're getting more and more and more empowered the more opportunities there are for us to help people."

Rev. Goodwin said the Conference has not yet been able to partner with the Massachusetts or Rhode Island Departments of Health, but said he would encourage local churches to press for those connections. He also said anyone who has a contact within those departments should pass those on to the Conference staff.

One church that has been able to form such a partnership is United Congregational Church in Little Compton, Rhode Island. They are working with the Rhode Island Department of Health to host three vaccination clinics over the next several weeks.

Rev. Rebecca Floyd Marshall said that the representative from the Department of Health, who attended UCC congregations in South Dakota before coming to Rhode Island, had attended a function at the church and reached out to the church to see if they might offer the space.

"Though the state of Rhode Island has a high vaccination rate overall (78% for all ages, 86% for 12+), Little Compton has only 55% of its population vaccinated," Rev. Marshall said. "I am guessing that is why RIDOH first began hosting pop-up vaccine clinics here in Little Compton at the local Brownell library. The clinics were a success but the space was pretty tight and so they were looking for another space nearby that would allow for better social distancing."

"Our church leaders were happy to open our doors to the community. Our recent capital campaign building project, Project Welcome, included creating a new accessible entrance and redoing our 'vestry,' or fellowship hall, to be more welcoming and inviting. Our goal was always to create a space that would offer a wide welcome not only to folks coming to worship services and church events, but also to the broader community." she said. "We are so glad RI Department of Health is going to be able to use our newly renovated space to make COVID Vaccination and Booster shots available."

The Avon Congregational Church in Connecticut has also been hosting vaccination clinics at their facility. 


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Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

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