Asbury UMC ministries thrive during pandemic

April 29, 2021 | by JB Brayfindley

Asbury UMC ministries thrive during pandemic

A good question to pose to Rev. Kathleen LaPoint-Collup, pastor of Asbury UMC in Livermore, California might be, “What outreach ministries is the church not doing?” On the church website, under the “mission” tab, are just a few of the many ways Asbury UMC touches their surrounding community including feeding, shower, clothing, laundry, mail, and bus pass ministries. It is no wonder that the city of Livermore reached out to the church to continue services at the beginning of the pandemic.
“We had a grant from the city to do the laundry and showers, so we were in conversation with the city,” stated LaPoint-Collup. They contacted me and said  “We really need you to continue,” and we replied, “Well, we want to continue but we need training on how to do this safely”.”
So, the city provided hands on training with an industrial hygienist and the church staff set up the program according to specific stringent protocols “as if everyone was infected.” Then, within two weeks, the church was able to reopen to support the program and has remained open throughout the pandemic.
“We haven’t had a problem since,” stated LaPoint-Collup noting that even though at one point there were people who came through who had COVID, “it didn’t matter, because we were already following all these really stringent protocols—we didn’t have to shut down again.”
Being open included offering meals three days a week cooked and served by “Open Heart Kitchen” (OHK) housed within the church. Founded in 1995 as an inter-faith effort, OHK is the largest hot meal program of its kind in the Tri-Valley Area serving over 328,000 meals last year. During the pandemic, however, meals were provided curbside, take out style, instead of in the social hall at tables.

Along with the kitchen, “The Garden of Grace” stayed open to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to different organizations.

Starting in 2010 as the brainchild of Rev. Charles Johnstone, a garden was planted on adjacent unused church acreage to serve the hungry in Livermore. Now, the garden is used as part of an educational non-profit entitled “Fertile GroundWorks.” The program grew under the direction of Alameda Master gardeners Bruce Campbell and Mark Brunell. In 2019, Fertile Groundworks harvested over 23,000 pounds to share with local food banks, schools and Open Heart Kitchen (located across the street) plus selling extra produce (pre-COVID) each Friday in at a You-pick market. In the last 12 months over 1,000 individuals have volunteered—a popular volunteer destination for the Tri-Valley.

“They have every kind of squash you can imagine, and peppers and onions, and all the leafy stuff you know, like kale and lettuce and cabbage and tomatoes and all these different kinds of tomatoes are really fun,” stated LaPoint-Collup. “… and the garden has expanded to the back area—they are adding stone fruit trees.”
“They work really hard … they’re [another] non-profit that we started and then we sent them off—that’s kind of what Asbury does.”
Six years ago, Asbury UMC did what they do, again, by starting “Partners for Change Tri-Valley.” Now an independent non-profit, Partners for Change is affiliated with the NETWorX supported by the Capitol City C.I.R.C.L.E.S. initiative with the mission to “empower people to chart their course out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency by intentionally creating personal relationships that bridge financial class lines.”
“I’m president of the board right now,” stated LaPoint Collup. “One of my big pushes is to expand the board.” Currently, the board is made up a variety of leaders of the community including from the police department, education, local industry, and real estate. Since the pandemic, the board has found that finances have been lean but have been able to keep a full-time executive director due in part to support from the church.
Since COVID-19 restrictions, the Partners for Change Tuesday night “Getting Ahead” meetings for “Change Leaders” (participants) and their “Allies” (trained support volunteers) are held via Zoom. Initial courses last 14-20 weeks followed 18 – 24 months of regular sessions with the allies—all on zoom, now. Asbury UMC has many volunteers involved in the program.
“We’ve been meeting electronically so we’ve lost some of the camaraderie but there’s a pretty tight community,” state LaPoint Collup, “What I feel I really miss is the children’s program—we tried a reading program with kids on zoom and, it’s yeah, you know.”
Building homes never stopped for those members volunteering with Habitat For Humanity. In fact, the church youth group completed a fundraiser for Habitat, a test case model to demonstrate how to safely build a playhouse during a shelter in place order.
“We were their trial case about how to do it safely during the pandemic and they got it down with us,” stated LaPoint Collup. “Then, they were able to take that to everyone else.”
Because school campuses were closed, the sites for pledge drives were limited and Asbury’s Social Hall became an ideal place. Not only did the Livermore Community Blood Pledge Drive at Asbury UMC continue a once a month drive but added up to 12 more drives per month.
“[We have] the right kind of facility to do it safely,” stated LaPoint-Collup who noted that a special air filtering had been installed to exchange air every 15 minutes. “When the pandemic hit all the scientists [in the church] started talking to each other and they came to trustees as if this is what we're going to do to make the room usable and they did it, you know.”
“We do love partnering with people and try to make our reach go further,” added LaPoint-Collup. During 2020, the church continued to raise money for local food banks and other local agencies. “We each bring our gifts and skills to it and it just makes it better for everyone.”

Click here to view JB's interview with Pastor Kathy LaPoint-Collup about the thriving ministries happening at Asbury UMC.


JB Brayfindley is a freelance journalist.
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