An Army Of Compassion
Area Churches And Faith Based Institutions Come to The Aid Of Local Families Affected by Shutdown
This is the fourth in an ongoing series that will be provided by Prince George’s Suite Magazine and Media as this development continues to evolve. Watch this space.
By Hamil R. Harris
As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history drags on, an army of faith-based centers have mobilized across the county to help government workers whose financial lives have been put on hold as President Donald J. Trump and Democrats in congress continue to spar over a wall to prevent immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally.
For decades working for Uncle Sam was synonymous with financial security and stability but that notion may be shifting after three government funding gaps within the past two years of the Trump Administration — including the month-long closures the nation now faces.
As a result, federal workers are dipping into their savings accounts, mortgage checks are late and food pantries have replaced restaurants in terms of dining out.
Several churches in the county have begun efforts to come to the aid of workers forced on furlough without pay.
"First Baptist Church of Glenarden is serving the needs of our community who’ve been adversely affected by the inability of our political leaders to effectively govern. Therefore, we feel it is our obligation to support neighbors, members and others who are federal employees or contractors with resources that are available to us,” said First Baptist Church of Glenarden Senior Pastor John K. Jenkins, Sr. FBCG planned to give groceries to 3,000 families during the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King federal holiday.
Church spokesperson Sonji Joyner said that some 1,000 furloughed federal employees picked up free bags of groceries Jan 21 by showing their federal ID between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. as part of the church’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service event. Over 2,500 were given by the end of the week.
More than 500 volunteers assembled at 5:30 a.m. to prepare bags for distribution at 10 a.m. Food giveaways to those affected by the government shutdown were part of the church’s community day of service on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and included packing purses with personal products for women in homeless shelters and service projects at local area schools among others.
After showing their federal work badges, event attendees were greeted by volunteers with friendly smiles, many of whom were also furloughed workers. Bags contained bread and non-perishable items including, pasta, peanut butter, boxes of macaroni and cheese and canned goods.
“We regularly provide groceries and other resources to those who are experiencing hardship at our Shabach! Ministries Empowerment Center, however given the current crisis we found ourselves in need of providing for more federal employees,” Joyner said, “Additionally, we are assisting parents of our Shabach! Christian Academy, students, and our members on a case by case basis.”
In addition to providing groceries, FBCG is also producing a series of FREE seminars “Staying Up While Shut Down: 8 Ways to be Spiritually and Emotionally Strong During the Government Furlough” offering help, hope and healing.
At the Antioch Baptist Church in Clinton, Rev. James Jones and his members will prepare meals to feed up to 200 people from 50 families during “Faith and Furlough Sunday,” Jan. 27.
“We are organizing with other local churches,” Jones said. “I believe that it is important to work as one community to do all we can while we can. We can’t help everybody, but we can help somebody.”
Rev. L.K. Floyd, President of the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington D.C. and Vicinity, said he is glad that so many churches are getting involved because, “Donald Trump is playing politics with peoples’ lives.”
“Dr. King said a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. He is using healthcare and taking away people’s basic needs as well as shutting down the government. He doesn’t care about the average person’s basic needs but only his narcissistic agenda.”
Thousands in the Washington, D.C. metro area are affected. So many people are living and often working without pay and this is where area congregations have stepped in. From a lawyer for the Washington, D.C. Superior Court System, a broadcast engineer for Voice of America, to a manager for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“It is because of God’s grace and knowing that He is control that I’m able to keep my peace,” said Nancy Clark, 58, a resident of Upper Marlboro, who is among those furloughed from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
First Baptist of Highland Park
Rev. Henry P. Davis, Pastor of First Baptist of Highland Park, said that a fourth of his 3,500 members work for the federal government and many of his members, like Clark, have been affected.
“We created a special fund to assist our members and we are not charging tuition to furloughed federal workers whose children attend Highland Park Christian Academy which is from Pre-K to the 8th grade.”
J. David Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees, was one of the last people to leave the Jan 9 White House protest that attracted several thousand federal workers, “I have never seen a president like this…. who holds temper tantrums and holds 800,000 people hostage.”
Others are forced to focus on the need at hand.
“I want my check. I need my check. I need to get back to work,” said Alison Munger, who works for the U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development in Philadelphia. “If I don’t get my check, my mortgage [company] is going to be calling me asking ‘where is our money’...my car people will be calling….my insurance company will be calling, and I have two kids in college.”
The Capital Area Food Bank
The Capital Area Food Bank is the largest distributor of food in the Washington, D.C. area and they have organized an army of humanity to give out food through area churches. The demand has been so great that their food stocks have been down, although not yet out.
19th Street Baptist Church
A woman showed up a food bank operated at the 19th Street Baptist Church in the District. She looked confused and didn’t have a referral, but she did have a federal ID.
Deacon Michael Bonner told the woman, “that’s okay, how many are in your family?” and the woman said four. The woman, who didn’t give her name, said she was furloughed and it’s hard. “I am the only person in my house working.”
Gary Euell, 63 and his wife both work as stenographers for the D.C. Superior Court and he also is a contractor with about 15 government agencies, but right now he’s working without pay and says, “I don’t know when I am going to get paid.”
Euell said 19th Street is a blessing because he and his wife have a five-year old and money is tight. “It’s crazy. I am having to choose between paying [the] car note or child care, and getting a food donation allows me to pay other bills.”
Rev. Darryl Roberts, 43, pastor of 19th Street Baptist Church, said the church will continue to serve the federal workers and people in the community as long as there’s a need.
“In Matthew 25, Jesus said ‘when I was hungry you fed me, when I was a stranger you befriended me.’ In a time like this it is important for the church to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ which means we must always speak truth to power and help those who are hurting.”