By Jan Barkley & J Hill
Back in April, South Main received a request from Houston Responds asking area churches to provide masks to underserved and under-resourced communities. The goal was a thousand churches each producing a thousand masks. We knew that time was critical, so we got to work right away. We put together a Google form and asked South Mainers to sign up to help. Realizing that not everyone can sew or has a sewing machine, we included other jobs that we thought might be useful like cutting fabric and being a delivery driver.
The form went out on Friday, April 24. Initially we thought we might be lucky to get about 20 to 30 volunteers. We were wrong! South Main was eager for a challenge and a project. By Sunday we had 60 volunteers and the number was climbing. In order to make it manageable, we had to organize a system, quickly.
Because our congregation is so spread out, we grouped our volunteers into eight geographic regions we uncreatively called pods?there was no time for a catchy South Main name! Each pod would have volunteers who would wash and cut fabric, volunteers who would sew the masks, and volunteers who would pick up and drop off materials and supplies. Each pod would also have its own administrator, someone who would keep the supply chain moving, answer questions from the volunteers in that pod, and report their progress to J and Jan.
By Tuesday morning, April 28, we were ready to get started. We had scrounged around the South Main campus and sourced some available fabric from the SMILE and South Main Summer Musical programs. Jan and Missy Wells put together 35 bags of fabric in Jan's garage. We were now up to almost 90 volunteers, 35 of whom would be cutting fabric. A runner from each pod picked up bags on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning and dropped them off on front porches to keep things contactless. We were now ready to roll.
As folks finished cutting fabric, they would call their administrator who would send a runner to pick up the cut fabric and then deliver it to the front porch of a volunteer who was ready to sew. When the masks were finished, a runner would pick them up and drop them off to the Emergency Aid Coalition (EAC), The Beacon or the ReCenter. We started dropping off completed masks one week after the project started, an incredible turn-around time. Over the next few weeks, volunteers cut and sewed and finished hundreds of masks.
It was wonderful to see how everyone worked together, even socially distanced, and to see the diversity of volunteers who participated?from ages 10 to almost 90! If someone couldn't finish sewing masks because of a broken machine or something came up in their personal life, another volunteer would step in to help. Extra cut pieces of fabric in one pod, would make their way to a volunteer in another pod who had finished a first batch and was able to sew a few more. In short, South Mainers figured out a way to be Church together even though we can't physically be together.
On Wednesday, May 20, J and Jan delivered the 1,000th mask to The Beacon. And the volunteers are still going?we are now at almost 1,300.
The Beacon is one of three organizations where South Main decided to focus its efforts. The other two are the EAC and the ReCenter. Each of these is an organization that South Main has ties to and each serves populations which are vulnerable in the best of times and easily slip through the cracks in the worst of times. The Beacon provides a range of services to the midtown and downtown homeless population, frequently work with SEARCH to move folks into transitional housing. Currently they serve about 500 people a day. The EAC, with which South Main has a long history, focuses on serving the working poor. As you can imagine, during the pandemic, the number of people the EAC works with has skyrocketed to about 2000 a week. The ReCenter is directly across Main Street from our campus and provides transitional housing and addiction recovery services to about 200 people. These organizations are our partners; with them we serve people that are vulnerable and lonely.
So, when we say we are being Church together even when we aren't together, we mean it. Thank You!