When the COVID-19 pandemic first started to affect Dallas, food pantries shut down as they had to figure out how to react to the new uncertainty and develop safety methods to keep everyone healthy.
The IRC in Dallas knew that with these closings, there would be a need for food in the community. Between job losses and quarantine, food would become even more important. As we reached out to community partners to help fill this need, in stepped Northridge Presbyterian Church —a partner of over seven years.
Each week, they had about 20-25 families from their congregation and the wider community gathering food, gift cards, and necessary items to go out during our food distribution in Vickery Meadows. In those first few weeks with their help we served 207 unique families 471 bags of food and distributed nearly $5000 in gift cards. But this is just one part in a long and on-going relationship.
In 2012, Northridge started a program called Northridge Without Borders. Soon after, they joined with the IRC in Dallas due to its closeness to their church and the willingness of the IRC to help educate and work alongside this new project.
The goal of their initiative has always been the “welcome the stranger” and that is exactly what they have done for our clients and community. Through educational and social events, and a garden at McShan Elementary, the church has been a stalwart supporter of the work we do and the people who we serve.
In late August, a Back to School event is hosted. Church members gather backpacks and school supplies for all our families who have arrived in the last three months with school-aged children. Families are brought to the church for fun and learning. While the kids are having fun, parents attend a series of interpreted educational classes led my church members in which they learn about what to expect from the school system in America. Parents really appreciate this learning experience their children’s education is a top priority of many clients. At the end of the day when everyone has had fun and learned about their new education life, the backpacks are handed out and the kids gleefully examine what will take them through the school year.
In the spring, the church holds a welcome barbeque for recently arrived refugees. Both congregant families our newly arrived families join together in a day of fun. A culturally appropriate meal is shared, bread is broken, and children enjoy the playground. The universal game of soccer is played by all ages and epic games of Jenga and Connect Four occur. In the past, attendees plant herbs in pots to take home with them or receive a large stew pot (a favorite item amongst all our families), and other kitchen materials. For many refugee families it is their first time they get to meet people in the community. The event shows the families how happy Dallas is to have them.
A few years ago through connections with the school, Northridge helped the IRC establish a garden at McShan Elementary in Vickery Meadows. They brought their peoplepower and built raised beds, compost bins and move mulch to create a safe and thriving place for our refugee gardeners to grow food for their families or to sell at market. The church still volunteers annually to help with garden maintenance.
The long connection with the garden sparked interest in food security in the church, which lead to the help with our COVID food relief. Even now as we move into a second phase of food distribution, Northridge is helping to compensate our gardeners who normally sell at a now-closed farm stand so the food they are growing can be donated back into the community directly.
When asked to talk about Northridge and IRC’s relationship, Merrilee Anderson, a founding member of Northridge Without Borders says “there have been some amazing events at Northridge where people from many different cultural backgrounds enjoy time and food together. We feel privileged to be able to provide a place of safety and kindness for these homesick people. Children play soccer together on the Northridge field or fly kites or hula-hoop or converse shyly with limited words and lots of hand signals. And in those special moments when we as a church feel more connected to the greater world and the immense needs beyond ours walls, we become better”
The relationship between Northridge Presbyterian and the IRC in Dallas has been a long one. Through pandemic, school preparedness, and soccer games, our two communities have become linked. The IRC in Dallas is deeply grateful for the continued support and love that comes from their church and are looking forward for a welcoming future.