Church Opens Doors to Serve Families During Schools Shutdown

By Brett Hetherington*

The COVID-19 pandemic that has caused schools in Ohio to be closed through at least the end of March has given families more than just an extended spring break for students. In the city of Cuyahoga Falls this order has placed many families in a place of limbo, wondering where many of the meals will be coming from for their children during this time.

Grandview United Methodist Church (Canal District) has a standing relationship with the Cuyahoga Falls City School District. Senior Pastor the Rev. David Hull-Frye serves on the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and the church building is only a block away from one of the district’s elementary schools.

The school district offers low-cost and/or free lunches (and often breakfasts), based on reported earnings, to families with low income. Meals are served in the school building during the school day, which provides parents with peace of mind knowing that their children are receiving proper meals at least twice each school day.

Throughout the year, the PTO also offers what it calls “food bags” to provide families with staples that they need to make it through a weekend, or even a tough spot in the week.

Normally, these services are provided inside the school building – but these are not normal times.

“The PTO can’t use the school building to pack their normal meals during this shutdown and we are only a block away, so we opened our doors. We are just trying to support the community as best we can,” Hull-Frye said.

In addition to working with the PTO, the church has partnered with the YMCA in Cuyahoga Falls to serve as a donation drop-off site for this outreach. It also has provided a room in its building where a limited number of volunteers are able to gather and pack bags with food for families, some of which have as many as nine members!

Mandy Brand – one of the volunteers packing food – shared that everything is donated or it is purchased with money that was donated. The PTO has made this program a priority and the community has been supporting it for a long time.

The food ministry is always important, but Brand says that during this tough time of pandemic it is vital.

“As more businesses shut down, more families will be in need. But the outpouring of funds and foods from the community has been amazing.”

“This started with schools closing and not knowing what happens with kids who normally receive free and reduced lunches,” shared Laurie Deliberato, another PTO volunteer giving her time to pack bags. She shared that there were about 21 families that would be receiving bags this week, and she expects that number to grow as businesses are forced to close down.

The food bags are packed on Monday evening and will be delivered by a separate volunteer Tuesday morning. The plan is for this to happen at least through the end of the month as the schools are closed.

This opportunity to serve the community would not have been in place if the church had not been so committed to serving the community in which it is located. Hull-Frye and his wife volunteered with the school, reading with students; the church shared treats to show the staff its appreciation; and several retired teachers, who are part of the congregation, volunteer during the school day with students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

Conversations are ongoing about how the church can continue to be a light in the life of this school that is practically in its own back yard.

Please e-mail with stories of how your congregation or faith community is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to your community in creative ways during this time of COVID-19 pandemic – and into the future.

*Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.