The coronavirus pandemic may have forced local church doors to close, but it opened doors to countless opportunities for churches to reach out to their communities in creative ways.
Churches initially responded by making their services available online. But that was only the beginning.
Mariners Church on Newport Coast Drive, which counts numerous Newport Beach residents among its parishioners, mobilized right away by offering food, supplies, childcare, and other help to first responders, essential workers, local homeless, those experiencing isolation, and others in need.
They were able to do this because of their many partnerships with Orange County nonprofits and local businesses, as well having ministries and a congregation that could mobilize, expand, and evolve its outreach team into a crisis response task force.
“From the day that everything started to shut down, we started leveraging relationships we already had established, as well as building new ones, so that we could impact and help communities,” explained Jorge Molina, Mariners Church Local Outreach Pastor.
“For instance, we have great relationships with 125 Santa Ana and Orange families through our Lighthouse ministries where we tutor, empower and teach students, and help families,” he said. “So when all this hit, we already had the relationships, and could create a mobile food pantry to help people there.”
Jorge elaborated on other examples of resources Mariners Church had that could be used to help meet different needs that arose during the pandemic.
“We already had a food pantry on campus that was open three days a week, and once the pandemic hit we were able to exponentially multiply how much food we give away,” Jorge said. “And we have a café on our campus too, and that was activated to help those who need it. Even though the food pantry and café both operated at a way smaller level, they were there so that when this hit, we just changed our orders from one case of something to 100 cases of them.”
Jorge explained that Mariners already had a relationship with City Net and began partnering with them to prepare 300 breakfasts every morning Monday through Friday for homeless individuals in Anaheim.
Mariners has also partnered with Tangata, the Bowers Museum Café, to provide 300 meals daily to healthcare workers at Hoag Health Network, Kaiser Permanente, CHOC, and other hospitals.
Additionally, Mariners partnered with Project Hope Alliance to help more than 25 families by providing food, laptops and Wi-Fi to families housed in local motels.
“Our café is preparing meals with food we purchase as well as food donated by our church members,” Jorge continued. “And we’ve also been partnering with OC Rescue Mission who gives us food, as well as with Second Harvest who sells it to us at a discount.”
Mariners Medical Ministry provided seven local hospitals with 9,000 PPE masks and is waiting for its next shipment. Mariners Outreach Ministry created and deployed 1,500 sanitation kits including toiletry essentials for homeless individuals and families in the community. They are also awaiting their next shipment.
“We are also partnering with the Red Cross,” Jorge explained. “They come here once every week and they have 45-50 time slots available for people to donate blood, and I think about 90 percent of those slots fill up every week.”
Jorge hopes to re-open the Thrift store at the church in the coming weeks with adequate health measurements. He explained that the church continues to partner with the Farmers Market each week.
“We see about 400 cars come by our drive thru each week,” Jorge said. “This not only serves our city, but also it gives an avenue for our farmers to sell their crops.”
“Another great example of leveraging what we already had was that we had a preschool that we could re-open to offer childcare for first responders who work countless hours,” Jorge said. “You see God’s handiwork everywhere. Everything was already there to take this to the next level. It was amazing.”
“All this did not catch God by surprise,” Jorge continued. “God is not bound by time so He has been preparing us as a church to have an impact in our community. We are not called to be inward focused, but outward focused. This is very important, because we are God’s workmanship, created to do good works. We do these good works because of what God has already done. We are compelled by His love.”
Jorge said the volunteer response from church members to help has been great. To date, the church has rallied over 1,000 volunteers, spent an estimated 2,750 volunteer hours, donated over 450,000 meals to healthcare workers and local homeless individuals, and received nearly $250,000 in-kind donations to support its COVID-19 relief efforts. Three times more people are attending Mariners online services compared to the in-person pre-coronavirus gatherings.
“Our online viewing has grown exponentially, like other churches,” Jorge said. “And when we talk about volunteering, folks step up and do it. We’re seeing people wanting to give, whether it’s time, blood, talent, or treasure. We try to find opportunities that are easy to step in to, that are comfortable ways for people to serve and get a feel for what it means to serve.”
“Hopefully after all this, the volunteers will come back and want to be involved,” he continued. “Just this last week we had 200 people volunteer for the first time. There are a lot of opportunities we are able to offer because of what we are already doing in the community. I am loving the response.”
For further information, go to marinerschurch.org.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected].