About two weeks ago, as churches across the United States realized they were going to have to find new ways to hold services and engage members in light of challenges posed by the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, Community Christian Church, with 11 locations in Chicago and the western suburbs, decided it was also a moment to expand their existing Community 4:12 outreach program, which has served not-for-profit organizations and communities adjacent to COMMUNITY campuses for almost two decades. “We got together and looked at the support we were already providing, and took the approach of ‘what else could happen, what kind of additional support might be needed now,’ says Amy Plummer, Director of Community 4:12. “That’s really how COMMUNITY Cares was born.” Pastor Jon Ferguson added “We believe that Community Cares is what it looks like for us to be the church – the hands and feet of Jesus during this COVID Crisis.”
The result is 11 teams offering services for communities from Lincoln Square to Joliet. “We’ve been able to mobilize people to serve their neighbors in the community,” Plummer says. These teams include:
– Collecting Donations of goods to address short-term emergency food needs for families to specific requests for goods and materials from organizations like Hesed House in Aurora.
–Food Insecurity volunteers are tasked with helping to pack food boxes for Aurora Interfaith Pantry, the Spanish Community Center in Joliet and Friendship Center in Lincoln Square. Family volunteer groups are desired, as many people who already live together can be assigned together despite social distancing.
–Support for Essential Service Employees challenges some 40 team members to determine creative ways to support and say thank you to vital workers. Among the ways volunteers have responded include delivering snack kits to hospital staff and ordering hot lunches for police and fire departments.
-Errand Runners who are fit and able are tasked with adding specific requests to their regular errands, to pick up prescriptions, groceries, or supplies for seniors and others at risk. Some 80 volunteers stand ready to serve the Carillon Community in Plainfield, as well as other neighborhoods where seniors reside. Additional volunteer teams offer errand services for those specifically quarantined due to exposure or illness.
–Homeschooling Support for Parents has attracted some 30 teachers who currently connect with individual parents by telephone to assist them in overseeing school work. The church is also considering creating a Facebook presence to help additional parents.
-Homelessness has become a greater challenge for Hesed House in Aurora, currently housing some 300 individuals. COMMUNITY has traditionally served a few times a month along with other area churches, providing and serving food. As other volunteer groups have chosen not to serve inside Hesed House at this time, the COMMUNITY team is filling the gap.
–Support for the Incarcerated at Joliet Treatment Center, the state’s only mental health correctional facility has been curtailed as on-site visits are currently prohibited. COMMUNITY volunteers are currently writing letters and praying for each individual in the facility.
–Support for the Lonely and Isolated has long been a concern of the church. As the issue affects so many during this time, volunteers are reaching out with phone calls and setting up Google and zoom gatherings to help people feel more connected.
-Prayer teams are responding to individual requests for prayers as well as gathering for weekly online prayer huddles.
–Mask Sewing began at the request of a member who works at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. So far, a community of women has sewn and delivered 150 masks to Edward Hospital in Naperville and is producing and storing more for other area health care facilities who may need them.
Plummer reports that all told, some 400 volunteers have signed up to help. “We know a surge is coming,” she says. “We just want to be ready, and we hope other organizations, churches and groups who become aware of needs will reach out to us.” Community Christian Church maintains a website for the COMMUNITY Cares program at communitychristian.org/cares. Visitors can join a care team or request help on the site. “I think like me, most people are grateful to have a purpose, knowing that what they do can provide help and care for others,” Plummer says. “I hope that years from now when we look back on this, people will be able to say ‘I helped my neighbor’.”