Pastor Kelvin Sauls (Courtesy photo)

The swiftness, severity and scale of the Coronavirus pandemic has challenged humanity to hit both the pause and reset buttons. Accompanied by fatality and anxiety, uncertainty and vulnerability, humanity had no choice but to enter a painful season of evaluation and adaptation.

Moreover, whether we like it or not, a major shift has us heading towards a new normal. Nevertheless, as people of faith, we must decide how f.e.a.r. will impact our spirituality and agency: forget everything and run or face everything and rise.

The purpose and power of resurrection is to reset and rise!! The commemoration of resurrection is more than a liturgical event on the calendar. The invitation of resurrection is a profoundly communal call to resist all forms of crucifixion, and re-imagine vitality to the fullest for everyone regardless of their zip code.

Leveraging this spirituality of resiliency and mutuality, a few leaders in southeast Los Angeles gathered for a strategic conversation about some of the short-term and long-term impact COVID-19 will have on our neighbors. Food insecurity immediately and expeditiously made its way to the top.

At the height of congregational anxiety about not being able to gather for worship services, we were guided to explore how we can be in worship through service to our neighbors in need. Hence, we started organizing the “Compassion in the midst of the Coronavirus Crisis Initiative” (Coronavirus Compassion Initiative).

With a parable being described as a fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude, a religious principle or providing instructive guidance, it became clear that if we are to be a parable amid the pandemic, we must become real actors in a courageous story. Guided by contagious love and hope, we assumed a moral disposition to balance practical solutions and prophetic racial justice advocacy.

After identifying and analyzing the problem, we needed strategic partners to assist with the following: place to host the initiative; pillars to anchor the initiative; providers to facilitate basic items for the meals; producers to prepare the nutritious meals.

God facilitated the provision through relationships and the vision of the Coronavirus Compassion Initiative was launched. With intentionality and mutuality, care and compassion as lamp and light unto our feet, at the end of our fourth week, with the generosity of organizations and individuals, we’ve prepared and served over 5,500 “Grab & Go” Suppers daily!!! With attentiveness to the changing needs of our neighbors and generosity of our strategic partners, we are expanding the suppers to include hygiene items and masks.

The pillars for the Compassion Initiative are two community-focused partners in southeast Los Angeles: Rebuild California Alliance (RCA) and Healthy Kids Zone (HKZ). The Healthy Kids Zone (HKZ) concept was created as a multi-level and multi-issue, place-based approach that brings community members within a ½ mile radius of a school to work together to identify community challenges and health promoting policy solutions to those challenges.

Spearheaded by Community Health Councils, and under my leadership, the HKZ concept is a place-based-model for community upliftment and betterment that places schools as its nexus and driver and draws heavily on the evidence of the place-based-model concept. With Fremont High School as the nexus, HKZ was poised to research and reach, organize and mobilize other assets to strategize how to embark on a journey from disparity to vitality.

At its core is the importance of community design with an emphasis on a community-driven participatory process and building partnerships among a range of agencies, organizations and individual stakeholders. RCA became such a stakeholder and community partner.

Founded by two “boys from the hood,” Rider Paysinger and Pastor DeAntwan Fitts, this five-year-old community development corporation has dedicated its efforts to bring vital and relevant resources to the underserved neighbors around the Peace Chapel Church. Their “boots on the ground” mentality is grounded in the belief that all people are God’s people, and that all people deserve the best resources to better and improve their lives.

Through strategic community partnerships, RCA has produced the Annual Los Community Resource Festival, provided housing for young adults and veterans and served the basic needs of all generations in creative and innovative ways. Muchas Gracias to the RCA-crew and HKZ-crew for being resurrection parable pillars amid the pandemic!

The provider of the basic items for the daily meals is the God’s Army United Service (GAUS) Food Bank located in Carson. Guided by the passionate and visionary leadership of Arlene Hyde, the mission of GAUS is to lessen hunger in Los Angeles County by soliciting, collecting and packaging food for distribution through a network of agencies and programs, as well as offer opportunities for self-sufficiency.

As we enter our fifth week of the Compassion Initiative, GAUS has undoubtedly improved the health and well-being of residents in need by providing access to nutritious food items to prepare and distribute up to 200 meals every day. In solidarity with GAUS, we believe that access to nutritious food is a basic human right. Hence, it’s an honor for us to unleash our commitment in response to the needs of our neighbors through food distribution and support services. Much appreciation to the GAUS-crew for being a resurrection parable provider amid the pandemic!

We are grateful to City of Youth (COY) for serving as the daily preparer and producer of the “Grab & Go” supper meals. Located in Compton, the mission of the City of Youth is to inter-generationally impact South Los Angeles by enabling the youth we serve with the tools to make change in their lives and in the community, while simultaneously providing a platform for progressive, socially active educational environments for community stakeholders.

Through experiential inquiry-based curricula that actively involves program participants both in and outside of the classroom, South Los Angeles community, students, staff and external participants strengthen their academic, leadership, professional, social-emotional and critical thinking competencies with the goal of cultivating a more inclusive, participatory and just society.

Under the leadership of Leslie Hagan-Morgan, COY was founded in 2004, to engage and be involved in direct response to the remarkable number of disadvantaged urban youth that were facing profound difficulty in the foster care system. Through COY’s effectiveness, these young people prepare meals daily for the Compassion Initiative as part of their contribution to fighting the challenge of food insecurity deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Siyabonga to the COY-crew for being a resurrection parable producer amid the pandemic!

Peace Chapel Church serves as the place where the Compassion Initiative is happening. We are grateful to Pastor Fitts for his adaptive and transformative leadership in making space available for the “Grab & Go” suppers to be distributed. With an eye on safety and hospitality, we adopted a “5-S Strategy” to be in compliance with city, county and state COVID-19 guidelines.

The “5-S Strategy entails: sanitize all essential areas being used; safe physical distance and protective gear in preparation and distribution; small gatherings by only deploying only 6-8 volunteers; Spanish language accessibility; sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As a community development church, Peace Chapel continues to be the resurrection in the midst of the crucifixion-like experience brought upon our community, country and world. Deep gratitude to the Peace Chapel-crew for your radical hospitality and cooking on the weekends to give the COY-crew a break. By being a resurrection parable place amid the pandemic, ya’ll are re-connecting neighbor with hood!!

Profound gratitude to our other strategic community partners: CANNDU Neighborhood Council, AMPLIFY.LOVE, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Path to Options, Inc., Community Health Councils, Uniting Intersections Unlimited, One in Christ, International Society for Black Latinos, The Tena Foundation, A Step To Freedom, Shelter Partnership and all our individual donors. Because of the Coronavirus Compassion Initiative, we are persuaded that there is victory beyond the virus. With intentionality and mutuality, care and compassion, we believe that we will WIN!!

Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Pastor Kelvin Sauls is the former Senior Pastor of Holman UMC. A faith-rooted Community Organizer in the areas of social justice and racial equity, he currently serves as the Network Strategist with Community Health Councils, a City Commissioner with the Los Angeles Housing Authority (LAHSA) and on the Pastoral Team at Peace Chapel Church in South Los Angeles.