‘Love in Action’ as SBTC churches respond to COVID-19 crisis with medical, food help

April 3rd, 2020 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches across the state are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by serving their communities in practical ways from distributing food to lending medical equipment.

Rio Grande Valley church lends mobile medical clinic to hospital

First Baptist Church of Brownsville has loaned its mobile medical clinic, once used to bring health care to migrant farm workers in California, to the Harlingen Medical Center. The center will use the medical truck’s examination rooms to screen patients and staff for the coronavirus, the Valley Morning Star reported on March 31.

The church received the medical unit from the California Baptist Convention Disaster Relief in January for use along the Texas / Mexico border, SBTC Disaster Relief Director Scottie Stice told the TEXAN. With California’s emission standards tightening, deploying the big unit was no longer possible in that state.

The church was in the process of determining how to use the medical unit when the coronavirus crisis struck.

“We were planning how best to serve the impoverished areas of the Rio Grande Valley and our church plants, planning to provide health screenings for blood pressure and diabetes, when the virus came and shut everything down,” Steve Dorman, First Baptist Brownsville pastor, told the TEXAN.

Church member Julie Bannert, the medical center’s director of surgical services, facilitated the loan of the mobile unit to the hospital, which had set up tents outside its emergency room entrance to triage potential COVID-19 patients—sweltering work, as temperatures soared into the 90s.

“The CEO of the medical center was thrilled to have an air-conditioned mobile medical unit,” Dorman said, adding that the unit’s exit and entrance doors make it possible to funnel patients through while minimizing the risk of the virus spreading.

“We hope it will help them, help people, that they will notice something about it being from the Lord and know that Christian people love and care about them,” Dorman said. 

The unit—the words “Love in Action” emblazoned in blue and gold around a large crown of thorns on its side—came stocked with medical supplies and PPE, much of which has been donated to the hospital or to other medical professionals for use in the crisis.

The medical unit is parked near the hospital’s emergency room entrance, where ER director David Salas and a team of nurses are using its two exam rooms to screen patients.

Dorman said the hospital may use the mobile unit as long as necessary in the battle against COVID-19.

“It wasn’t how we planned to use it, but it’s how God planned to use it,” Dorman said.

Food distribution accelerates for Arlington church

In Arlington, the DFW-area multi-campus Rush Creek Church has seen a dramatic increase in clients at its food pantry, the Rush Creek Compassion Center, during the coronavirus crisis.

The church has operated the food pantry at its Arlington campus at 2350 SW Green Oaks Drive for seven years, serving not only area families with food boxes but also 500 schoolchildren from 22 schools in Mansfield, Kennedale, Fort Worth, Arlington and Grand Prairie with backpacks of food for weekends.

The backpack program is part of a school-year-long effort in which Rush Creek works with local school districts to provide the food to needy kids. In Mansfield ISD, these efforts are funneled through the Common Ground network as the church joins other local congregations in providing volunteers and support to distribute the “backpacks,” grocery bags full of items children can prepare easily. 

Since the coronavirus crisis started, the Rush Creek Compassion Center has seen its clientele double for prepackaged food pickups at its Arlington campus. Before the crisis, clients made appointments, were interviewed and then allowed to pick up boxes of food once a month.

To meet the current needs, the screening has been largely abandoned as people living in the zip codes served by the church are allowed to drive up and get food, while volunteers load the food boxes into their trunks. 

The drive-through center is open from 10:00 a.m. to noon daily.

“We have revamped to accommodate the situation,” Shane Cavitt, Rush Creek’s local compassion pastor, said, adding that volunteers are gloved and masks are available. 

Volunteers keep track of who comes, asking people to come no more than every two weeks during the crisis.

The boxes of food come with staples such as rice, beans, pasta, canned tuna, canned vegetables and fruit, peanut butter and jelly. Bread and pastries are available also. 

Church members donate food items and a local Tom Thumb grocery store provides bread and pastries, but the church purchases most food in bulk from HIM, the Harvesting in Mansfield Center.

Each box is not a month’s worth of food, Cavitt explained, but would feed a family of five for 10 days and might last two to three weeks for a small family. It is designed as a supplement.

Normally, the average client may be someone who has lost their job, just gotten a new one, and needs a little help. Now, however, many are in need. 

The church gave out 300 boxes of food over the last three weeks, twice its normal distribution. Often people driving through pick up the kids’ backpacks of food, too, since schools are shut down.

Rush Creek has even developed and distributed homeless packs, easily prepared food with pop top lids and individual servings.

The church is also sending increased financial assistance to its campus in the suburbs of San Salvador in El Salvador, Brian McFadden, Rush Creek’s global compassion pastor, said.

The 700 who attend the San Salvador church include many day laborers who have lost their jobs as the country has been locked down. Through a family sponsorship program, Rush Creek normally sends support monthly but has increased the amount given, sending funds to feed 500 families this month with plans to continue, McFadden said.

Like other churches across Texas, congregations in the Panhandle’s Top O’ Texas Baptist Association are assisting local food pantries, such as the one operated by Good Samaritan Christian Services in Gray County.

“We are making sure Good Sam’s have personnel to unload the trucks that come in,” James Greer, Top O Texas director of missions, told the TEXAN. “Large cartons are unloaded by forklift and our guys help stack the items on shelves.”

Recent volunteers include those laid off from jobs in oil fields and other industries.

“They don’t want to sit at home if they can help,” Greer said, adding that as DOM for Top O’ Texas, he is informing food banks in his association’s 16 counties of the availability of volunteers.

How your church can help 

SBTC churches wishing to add their names to a databank of churches throughout Texas willing to help distribute food or minister in their local areas during the COVID-19 crisis are invited to provide their information at the following link, managed by SBTC Disaster Relief, who will help pair churches with needs in their communities: https://sbtcevangelism.wufoo.com/forms/z1oan9ht0yoy7pn/.