Alabama families are navigating the return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and many local churches are ministering to struggling families by supporting their community schools.
When Arab City Schools announced a hybrid split-time schedule from Aug. 20 through Sept. 8, Gilliam Springs Baptist Church stepped in to assist families of K–6th grades students by hosting a Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday program designed to mirror the local school schedule.
Volunteers in the Virtual Assistance program walked students through completing school-assigned videos and classwork.
Volunteers also incorporated extra reading and math activities, along with recess, art, snacks, Right Now videos and Bible study.
The church charged a weekly fee of $50 per child but offered no-cost options for low-income families.
“[Virtual Assistance] has definitely opened up opportunities for us to build better relationships with school systems, administrators and teachers,” said Theresa Mayo, Gilliam Springs preschool and children’s director.
“Most exciting, it has given us a chance to remind the parents that we are here — supporting them and praying for them, and we are willing to help them in any way that we can.”
Mayo added that schools are deeply involved in the homes of their children, and the Gilliam Springs congregation engages with the school system each year by hosting teacher trainings, meals and other events.
“When we offer support and prayers for [teachers and staff], we are touching every family through association,” Mayo said. “We want to pour into them so they can pour into the children and the families.”
Three years ago, Russell Baptist Association developed Mission 2018 to expand existing local missions efforts of providing backpack supplies and weekend food backpacks for students. The association also added an email hotline through which teachers could request supplies and prayer.
The association continued the effort as Mission 2020, providing supply bags to encourage area teachers. Specially printed bags included messages of appreciation along with hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, paper towels, pencils and other requested items.
Participating churches collected items, then gathered to pack and deliver 777 bags to teachers in Russell County, Phenix City and southeast Lee County Schools, according to Marty Holley, director of missions for Russell Association.
In Albertville, Mount Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Brent Roe said a number of church members work in Albertville city schools.
With school faculty and staff under extra strain and working long hours to meet COVID-19 challenges, Roe said the church wanted to share the love of Christ and help meet some physical needs for school personnel.
On Aug. 18, Mount Calvary volunteers grilled 200 hamburgers for faculty of Albertville primary and elementary schools. Each lunch contained a card of appreciation and a promise of prayer for the coming school year.
“Our teachers spend so much time with our children, guiding our children at the most influential times in their development,” said Roe. “We recognize the importance of these men and women who are on the front lines of the future of our churches and our nation. They need our support through prayer and every means possible much more than they need our criticism.”
First Baptist Church, Carbon Hill, provides a meal for local school faculty and staff each year as well, but this year the church had to adapt because of COVID-19.
Seeking to boost teacher morale, the church provided nearly 100 reusable treat baskets filled with chocolate candy, peppermints, a pen, sticky notes and hand sanitizer along with a handwritten note of encouragement.
Pastor Scott McCullar said the church normally donates school supplies, but with many students attending virtual school, prayer is the greatest need this year.
“We support the schools because we want to show the love of Jesus,” he said.
“There are so many people in our schools that don’t have a church home, that may have a bad taste in their mouth of what churches are or who Christians are. Showing God’s love in a practical way helps show them what the gospel really is — not a judgmental church but a loving Savior.”
To read more about a recent survey of needs among Alabama children, click here.