Sometime last year on a Zoom call with clergy we were asked by the bishop what words first come to mind when we think of our experience as a priest during the pandemic. The two words that immediately came to me were generosity and abundance. Those words are a reflection of you, and how you have responded to the extraordinary times in which we live.
I know I’ve said some of this before, but it bears repeating. At our first pandemic vestry meeting last April we discussed two questions. How can we care for members of our congregation whose livelihoods are affected? And how can we respond to the need in our community that the pandemic creates?
In answer to the first question, we established a parishioner relief fund with $20,000 (others have added to that). It is still here. If any of you need financial assistance all you have to do is call me. There are no applications to fill out, no paperwork, and it’s all confidential. Please do not hesitate to call if you need help.
The second question — how we respond to the community — has been answered in several ways. The vestry established a food pantry fund to which many of you have contributed. Some of that money has gone directly to the two Sandy Springs Pop Up Pantries so that they can buy fresh produce and other non-perishable items. And we have delivered many tons of food by this time, all of which come from you. Elise MacIntyre continues to make deliveries to the pantry every Tuesday.
We helped in other ways, too, of course. The $55,000 we raised last spring for RIP Medical Debt relieved almost $6.5 million of medical debt for 4,000 Atlanta households. We were able to give generous donations to Emmaus House, the Sandy Springs Community Action Committee, Family Promise, Path to Shine, and Holy Comforter, as well as our usual $5,000 gift to the Msalata Theological School in Tanzania to help with their medical needs.
Add that all up and last year this congregation gave a little more than $100,000 to help those in need in our local community and around the world. That does not include donations of food, dozens of gift cards for Family Promise, or the parishioner relief fund. Now you may understand why generosity and abundance were the words that best describe my experience of this congregation.
As the pandemic continues into 2021 so does your generosity. Last month when the southern Sandy Springs pantry (located in the old Publix space at the Prado) began raising money to buy a box truck that enables them to accept large donations of food from all around the area, the vestry immediately voted to donate $5,000.
When the freezer at the northern pantry (at Samad Grill on Roswell Road) died yesterday I could tell the pantry directors that St. Dunstan’s would cover the replacement. Last night the vestry agreed, approving a $5,000 gift from the pantry fund that will cover the freezer ($750) and allow them to purchase nonperishable items.
Your donations of money and food have helped feed literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the last 10 months.
And that’s not all. Last night the vestry also approved a $50,000 gift to Emmaus House. That money will go to a fund to help pay rents or mortgages for people facing eviction. (Emmaus House is an Episcopal ministry serving the neighborhoods around the old Turner Field, some of the poorest communities in the city.)
Why are we able to make these donations and gifts? Because of you and your generosity. St. Dunstan’s may be a small congregation, but the impact we make on our community is large. What a privilege it is to be your priest.