It wasn’t long after Kenosha, Wisconsin, was thrust into the international spotlight after a police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back, triggering protests which sometimes turned violent and destructive, that local church leaders began looking for ways to help.
On a Sabbath last August, they gathered in downtown Kenosha to pray for the wounded community and later spread out into Kenosha to volunteer in support of local clean-up efforts. That event attracted local media and Zack Payne, head network pastor for Wisconsin Southeastern Network Seventh-day Adventist churches in Kenosha, Racine, and Raymond, was quoted saying, “We wanted to come together and show some unity in Christ so we can unify with our community and help. It’s a display of unity that we’re all able to come together and accomplish something — we’re here and we care.”
Since then, Payne and his leadership team wanted to do a follow up to the successful community outreach but with the pandemic raging across Wisconsin, they found themselves with limited options on what they could do.
The community was already hurting long before the protests and pandemic. Kenosha, located halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee with a population of 160,000, has seen its economy, not unlike several Midwestern cities, struggle over the years. According to U.S. Census data, unemployment stands at 10 percent. One in every 5.3 resident lives in poverty.
As they scanned the area to see how to best help, they saw that there were organizations already making meaningful change and decided to join forces with them. Armed with a $6,000 donation from the Lake Union and Wisconsin Conference, the Wisconsin South East Network (WISEN) leadership settled on three groups to assist. “They seemed to be doing a lot of good, so we were able to give to them with confidence,” says Payne.
A few days before Christmas, Payne and lay pastor George Andrews III, showed up at the doorsteps of three organizations with checks for $1,500 each. (The remaining funds were used to pay some expenses they incurred for the August event.)
The Kenosha YMCA/Frank Neighborhood Project is putting the funds toward an after-school tutoring program at the Frank Elementary School. They’re currently assisting 72 students in improving their math and reading scores. “This [donation] is tremendous blessing,” says Rachel Mall, the Y’s Youth and Family director. “Everybody is struggling financially so this money will help us continue the program.”
Karl Erickson is executive director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Outreach Center (ELCA) said while he wasn’t expecting the windfall, he, too, is grateful. ELCA is a faith-based non-profit, focusing on sharing God’s love and its mission is to help residents become self-sufficient. They offer several services, including providing diapers, formula, personal care kits, and prescription vouchers, however, with services curtailed because of the pandemic, they’re focusing on the immediate need of providing warm clothing. “We already spent the funds on buying hats and gloves,” he says. “We needed this!”
The Shalom Center of the Interfaith Network's mission is to serve the community by providing emergency food, shelter, and support in ways that meet immediate needs and respect human dignity. Through food, shelter, and guidance, they help people maximize their potential for self-sufficiency.
“We are just grateful to be a light to our community,” says Payne.
— Debbie Michel is managing editor of the Lake Union Herald; this article originally appeared on the Lake Union Herald website.