For the past few years Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, a small parish community averaging about 50 people per Sunday in Biloxi, MS, has partnered with FOCUS North America for the Back to School Backpack program. This year, volunteers from Holy Trinity filled 24 backpacks full of new supplies and donated them to the Biloxi School system – enough to supply materials for nearly an entire classroom full of students!
We asked George Yurchak, FOCUS Volunteer and Parish Council president at Holy Trinity, how things got started. He said simply,
“One of our parishioners came and talked to me and thought this was something we should get involved in…I totally agreed with him and we have been doing it for several years now.”
Thanks to a generous parishioner at Holy Trinity who donates the backpacks, the rest of the parishioners are able to get involved through donating items to fill the bags including binders, notebooks, pencils, glue, rulers, and even other items requested by the schools.
At Holy Trinity, parishioners “love the feeling of helping locally, and getting to connect,” shared George, “our parishioners are so generous in areas like this even though we are a small church.”
With the poverty rate in Biloxi at 22.7% (almost double the national poverty rate of 12.3%), volunteers are very aware that people within their parish might also need help from time to time.
This year in Biloxi, “we had a mother and three daughters visiting from another Orthodox church, and [after learning of their need] we gave one of her girls a backpack,” shared George. Being prepared and knowing that our community is able to step in and assist when needed “is a great feeling.”
Prioritizing opportunities to serve the community “touches the lives of so many [and helps those we serve] to find purpose,” said George, and “having the opportunity to serve also “creates meaning in the lives of our parishioners.”
The occasion to serve shouldn’t be reserved for a special occasion, rather every occasion should be an opportunity to offer love, compassion, service, and understanding.
The faithful at Holy Trinity have practiced faithfully listening, and responding to God’s call to serve. Their numerous community initiatives include FOCUS Back to School Backpacks, fundraisers for Make a Wish Foundation, Supporting active duty seamen through Christmas on a Ship Program, Assisting Ukranian Orphans, Volunteering through the Public Library Language Reading Program, and more!
Feeling inspired to take action in your community? We asked George what has worked in his community over the years. Who knows, his tips could work for you too!
Four Tips On How To Start Serving Your Community:
- Host a regular event to draw the community to the church. For Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Biloxi, George says their annual festival “is like a domino effect” that has connected parishioners with many community needs including the Armed Forces Retirement Home, The Disability Connection, and Public Libraries Language Reading Program. In addition to a festival, your parish could consider hosting: a community dinner or picnic open to the public (try your parish’s feast day), a holiday concert, a summer talent show, a public speaker/lecture, or a community yard sale instead.
- Listen to your people & observe potential opportunities. “That’s how Holy Trinity got into the FOCUS Backpack Program…and we have been doing it for several years now,” shared George. Similarly, it was a simple conversation with a stranger that lead to Holy Trinity’s connection with the Christmas on a Ship Program – which now connects many Orthodox seamen of Russian and Ukranian backgrounds with assistance and spiritual support. God is always putting opportunities in front of us, so it is our duty to listen and observe.
- Connect with other Orthodox Churches and their priests. “It helps to have a close working relationship with [nearby parishes]” George advises. Some ways to keep in touch could be: visit neighboring parishes for services or events when they have them and talk to people, reach out to clergy with ideas to work together, and be open to other people’s ideas.
- Take action! George’s last piece of advice is simple, “research areas where you can get your parish involved and then do it.” Follow through is important, if you feel strongly that your parish should be more active in social ministry, but don’t see anyone else taking action…chances are YOU could be the one who is being called to take the first step.