The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) seeks to engage people in Christ’s call to serve by providing resources and opportunities designed to support communities in need. Many of the opportunities FOCUS provides are community engagement projects, designed to help parishes connect with their local community.
This year, with COVID spreading and many schools adopting virtual education models, many communities were faced with challenges, even though they were faced with unprecedented need. The Orthodox Christian community in Philadelphia didn’t let COVID stop their service efforts. In fact – they were able to customize FOCUS’ back to school program to meet their community’s needs in a more meaningful way.
“When the decision was announced that Philadelphia area schools would be virtual this year because of COVID, the Homeless Ministry at Annunciation was very grateful and excited to be able to pivot the FOCUS backpack program and fill backpacks with essential items for the homeless,” shared Angela Godshall.
Annunciation began by organizing a drive to collect the necessary items, and through FOCUS received backpacks to put all the supplies in. Young people of all ages helped pack and personalize the backpacks for people experiencing homelessness. Annunciation Sunday School and JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth) wrote cards and notes of encouragement for the backpacks. GOYA (Greek Orthodox Young Adults) filled 50 backpacks with the items collected by the entire parish earlier in the fall.
Through the efforts of the whole community, on November 5, 2020 a handful of volunteers from Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church took the FOCUS backpack program to the streets of Philadelphia through their Homeless Ministry.
Below is a reflection from Angela Godshall, who was one of the key volunteers organizing this year’s efforts.
Thanks be to God, even with COVID limiting church attendance and the ability to participate in activities, we completed another successful backpack drive! Our Homeless Ministry planned to distribute the backpacks to people we serve who are living on the streets in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, during the last week in October curfews were reinstated in Philadelphia due to unrest following the tragic death of Walter Wallace Jr.. Our ministry team and GOYAns were unable to feed and distribute the backpacks as planned on October 29th, but a smaller core team was able to do so the following week. The people our Homeless Ministry serves are grateful and considerate in not taking more than they need. It’s not unusual for some of the people we serve to decline second servings of food when available or even firsts on limited items. All of the women we served on the night of our backpack distribution graciously took a backpack but a few of the men politely declined. It’s also not unusual for those we serve to offer to take food or other supplies to people they know who are also struggling. We have witnessed this time and time again – those who have next to nothing are often the most willing to share and take care of others.
Serving others is a way to express gratitude for what Jesus has done for us and to share the love and grace we have been given. We experience miracles, joy, peace and God’s presence in new ways when we serve others.
In John 2:1-11 we read about the first miracle Jesus performed. Jesus was at a wedding and the couple was running out of wine for its guests. Jesus tells the servants to fill several big jars with water. So the servants filled the jars up to the brim. Jesus then says to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” When the steward of the feast tasted the water, it had become wine. The guests never knew what happened; the servants were the ones who witnessed the miracle. The same is true for us when we serve.
One of the men that came through our serving line on November the 5th, asked if he could “please” also have a backpack for his girlfriend who was not there that night. We had tied pink ribbons onto the women’s backpacks to facilitate a quicker distribution during COVID. I asked him his name and he answered “Angel”. I asked him what his girlfriend’s name was. He smiled and sweetly answered “Angela.” I smiled back and let Angel know that my name is also Angela! Perhaps this was a little miracle or at the very least, a joyful coincidence!
The women and men that we serve were extremely grateful for the food and backpacks filled with essentials. Even in the dark and behind their masks, we could easily see their gratitude filled smiles!
It was a beautiful night filled with love and God’s presence and as always, a blessing to serve!Angela Godshall
FOCUS North America exists to support the growth of Orthodox Christian service efforts by providing engagement opportunities that reveal Christ in our neighbor and serve community needs within our five ministry areas of Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter.
Join our mission of engaging in Christ’s call to serve today!