By SARAH BRADBURY
Pastor Desmond Barrett of New Life Church of the Nazarene in Pulaski, along with member Ann Waller, shared information on services they provide and partnerships they have with other organizations to assist in feeding and clothing those below the poverty line or on the brink of homelessness.
One such partnership is with Feeding America, a food program which served over 3,000 people with 14,000 pounds of food and 500 pounds of personal hygiene products.
The church, which has just over 50 members, also has their own food pantry, Ruth’s Harvest. “Twice a month we provide a box of good staple food for six families. They pick it up every other Thursday for six months. Then we search for six more of the neediest families,” said Waller, volunteer coordinator for Ruth’s Harvest. “We’ve impacted nearly 100 people who were in the families of the receivers,” the pastor added.
Barrett and Waller say Ruth’s Harvest came to fruition about two and a half years ago because of the tornado. New Life supplies the food, or money for the food. “We don’t try to supply their monthly food, we just supplement their needs as far as groceries are concerned,” said Waller.
“The majority of the people are trying to stretch their dollars. We’ve talked to them about saving their food assistance to pay for meats, but we will provide fruits and vegetables and bread,” said Barrett.
Waller explained the decision to call the food assistance program Ruth’s Harvest isn’t because of anyone in their church, but rather from the Book of Ruth in the Bible. The book of Ruth parallels what New Life is trying to do for the community.
Canned donations can be donated to Ruth’s Harvest and left at the church office. Ruth’s Harvest is completely non-profit. Every bit of money that goes into the program is used to buy food for those who are receiving it. “It’s serving its purpose. I have a group of dedicated Christian women who show up and show out,” Waller said of the volunteers who help with Ruth’s Harvest.
New Life partners with the Salvation Army, acting as their Pulaski site on a weekly basis. This partnership provides people who gain assistance with late or turn-off notices on their bills, the backpack program, Thanksgiving baskets, Christmas gifts, and Easter baskets a local place to meet. The agency has moved their office from Pulaski County, but still serves this area through a satellite office at New Life each Tuesday morning from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., until funds run out.
They also partner with the Dream Center off Dora Highway in packing and handing out nearly 200 boxes of food each month. “We partner with the R.O.C.K. at Central Gym, and Pastor Joe Blankenship on a weekly basis during the school year. We provide one meal a month for the children who attend,” said Barrett.
He says the church is also starting what they hope to be a weekly clothing bank, set to be open by the end of September, called Solomon’s Closet. “We’ve already had four truckloads of clothes,” said Barrett. This effort is being put together and run by Debbie Therrien, according to the pastor, and he emphasizes “this is an in-house initiative.”
New Life also partners with the Annual Community Free Fair, held the last day of the NRV Fair. This began four years ago, with a yearly community fair held at the church the last day of the NRV Fair “to provide a place for children and families who don’t have the funds for the larger fair with a free fair experience, where they are loved and made to feel special,” said Barrett, and adds the Free Fair “impacts over 500 children and adults each year.”
Barrett says the majority of New Life’s population is struggling to make it on some level. “There is a physical need of some sort,” he said, whether it be food, assistance paying bills, or another form of assistance.
“As a church, we can meet their needs spiritually, as well. These folks become part of our extended church family. You get to know their story, and when you get to know someone’s story, it’s easier to find some way to help them.”
“We are a missional people,” said Barrett. “We help third-world countries with finances and things like that for food, but we wanted to do something locally. It’s our responsibility, we feel, to help bridge that gap.”
According to the Pulaski New Life Church of the Nazarene State of the Church Address for 2012-2013, “When a church provides the social services with the aim to help families who struggle with food security, essential healthcare needs, housing and spiritual developments, then you begin to see the church as a compassionate-connector with its neighbors and community.”
Pastor Barrett shares a quote from Bryan Stevenson, a professor at New York University School of Law which he feels is relevant to this issue: “When we begin to judge the character of our society by how we treat the poor, then we will begin to understand truly profound things about who we are.”
Barrett says the church’s notion is that there is a place for government, but there is also a place for church and community. “Back a long time ago, families relied on each other, neighbor on neighbor, and they would barter and they would trade, and that’s what we can do here in this community,” he said.
“We should not be overlapping services or duplicating services, but we can come together to provide services holistically for the whole community. For instance, we can’t provide financial assistance, but Community Action and Salvation Army can, so we send them there,” said the pastor. “We provide food on Saturday, and there’s other churches in the community that provide Feeding America food on other days. You don’t need government assistance, you just need people power.”
He says the church has always had a wonderful partnership with the Town of Pulaski. “It was the partnership during the tornado that really solidified that they are a partner with us and this side of the community,” said Barrett.
He feels we as a community need to remove denominational, agency or territorial walls separating us so we can come together and work outside of the government realm.
The pastor says he does not believe we have to go to the Town of Pulaski and say “give us ‘X’ amount of dollars to fund our operation” because he feels there are more resources available to us “but we have to pool our resources together to make it work, to help close the gap of those who are falling through the cracks.
“This is not about us, but about how can we be the hands and feet of God and how can we partner with other people. It took a visionary pastor in Pastor Tim West and Ann (Waller) to take on the problem,” said Barrett. He explains they now try to continue to use the limited resources they have in the most efficient and economical way. “And continue to see it grow,” added Waller.
Barrett says community agencies have a friend in the town and in the county “but government can’t solve all the ills of society. Churches and neighbors have to rise up and help other neighbors.
“Without an Ann Waller, without the other ladies, we could not do this. It takes dedicated servants who are doing it to honor God, not to get their names out. Ann has taken it upon herself to be the Ruth; to go out and glean,” said Barrett.
“And if we get more supplies, we can reach more families,” added Waller.
“We’re going to continue to love people, and we take them in, regardless of where they come from or who they are, we just want to help. That is our focus as a church. Christ didn’t ask, ‘What’s your pedigree?’ or ‘What’s your background?’ he just wanted to help.
“That’s what we’re trying to do through Ruth’s Harvest and Feeding America,” said Barrett. “Some people are fighting addictions, but some of those same people are the ones who show up and get in line to help lift boxes and carry them in.”
“We had a church in Radford send us a check. One day I was in Walmart and a woman recognized me as someone from Ruth’s and she wrote me out a check,” said Waller.
“No church or organization can do it alone, but together we can do great things. That’s why we partner with these other agencies, because they are doing great things and we just want to come up alongside them and ask how we can help,” said Barrett.
New Life partners with other churches, and they are looking for people to volunteer and help pack boxes. Anyone wishing to make donations can stop by the church office on First Street, SW, in Pulaski. Contact Rev. Desmond Barrett at (540) 980-2001, or email Pastordesmond10@aol.com.