La Salle church organizes projects amid pandemic
They almost had to call off Hope Week. Members of Ax Church had proposed community projects and then the pandemic struck. How could they do outreach in masks and 6 feet apart?
Better than they dared hope.
Cameron Graper, lead pastor, stood watching Saturday morning in downtown La Salle while the youngest members of his flock drew chalk pictures and hopeful messages on the sidewalks. Maybe the drawings and expressions wouldn’t linger – thunderstorms menaced all day – but the drawings had put smiles on the faces of passersby. His, too.
“Normally, we plan these really big, top-down projects,” Graper said. “This year, because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to work with communities and organizations because everything was locked down.”
In recent years, Ax Church has encouraged volunteers to do some charitable work for their community and the warmly-received efforts have resulted in tangible improvements to public parks and private homes.
This year’s Hope Week was planned back in January, but then the novel coronavirus pandemic struck and Graper firmly told his flock to stay home in the interest of personal and public safety – and then reluctantly told them many Hope Week projects would have be scrapped, too.
There was serious talk of canceling Hope Week this year and looking ahead to 2021. Instead, members wondered aloud if they could do outreach while social distancing and gradually new project possibilities surfaced.
“We just kind of threw everything against the wall,” he said, “stepped back and said, ‘What can we do?”
Sarah Harris of Peru was among those who took up the challenge. She brought her five children downtown, handed them chalk and asked them to draw or write anything that might make people happy during a time of crisis.
“Especially these days, we all need some encouragement and hope,” Harris said.
Graper said most church members took the same approach. If brick-and-mortar projects are down this year, they’ve been replaced with gestures of goodwill and inspired flashes of creativity. Some church members went to nursing homes and painted the windows. In so doing, they’ve given the residents, many of whom haven’t received visitors since the pandemic, a wave hello.
"A lot of people are going to community centers and libraries and making the landscaping look really nice," said Rachel Dawson. "There are a lot of outdoor projects to clean up the local parks and everybody is social distancing."
And those without drawing or landscaping skills were been moved to give to those in need. Graper said donations to various charities were higher this year than he could recall.
“And honestly the response has been amazing,” Graper said. “There is so much creativity – things we never thought of. It’s more personal than ever, it’s more creative than ever and, actually, it’s more generous then ever.”
And despite the ongoing infection controls, the La Salle church still found ways to do brick-and-mortar outreach projects here and there. Mark Schneider joined a team of workers who lent some elbow grease at a La Salle home where the owner was having difficulty with upkeep. Steps were taken to protect everyone from infection, but the hammers flew and everybody left the site happy.
“Oddly enough, it really made people feel empowered to think up their own Hope Week projects rather than let someone else suggest ideas,” Schneider said. “From that standpoint, it’s been more successful.”