Santa in position. Check.
Gifts from the PIE wish trees delivered to classrooms. Check.
Food hot and ready. Check.
Servers and CRB groceries in place. Check!
More than 200 students and their families came pouring into the Gilcrease Elementary cafeteria on December 11. Mrs. Pam Lee, Gilcrease Community Coordinator, called up all the kids with December birthdays for a round of “Happy Birthday” before everyone lined up for dinner.
On this special Gilcrease Family Dinner—a monthly gathering of community, food, and grocery pick-up provided by our Partners In Education and Community Resource Bank—anchors and reporters from News on 6 joined Rev. Marlin Lavanhar and All Souls volunteers on the food line.
After the last bite of turkey and dressing, families took turns taking pictures with Santa, our very own Andrew Donovan-Shead snapped the photos—a keepsake, special just for them. When Santa is off-duty, he plays the role of George Davenport, another All Souls member.
After families picked up their groceries, 60 pounds of food per family, they got to stop in the Gaining Ground Book Bus, founded by member Lisa Shotts, to pick out books to take home.
Every. Single. Month.
Although this was a special holiday celebration, our Partners In Education (PIE) and Community Resource Bank (CRB) volunteers and resources fill gaps in the classroom and supplement food needs of families, serving 1200+ students and 500+ meals at our three partner schools … and they do it every, single month.
Lead by Joe Nurre and Deanna Terrell, the CRB is a partner agency for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Executive Director Elieen Bradshaw considers Joe to be a constant denominator that multiplies the reach of the food bank. “We would be everywhere if we could, but as mere mortals, the food bank’s efforts can only go so far alone. With the teams from All Souls, we are so confident in their ability to reach hundreds of families every month,” Bradshaw said. “Partners In Education and the Community Resource Bank approaches all they encounter with love and dignity. It’s not a transaction for the volunteers, it’s about relationships and building community. We are incredibly grateful for our partnership with All Souls.”
PIE and CRB have a huge impact.
The impact these two justice teams have on our community is huge and frankly, not one story could encapsulate the difference PIE and CRB make in the lives of Tulsans. Shelley Mackin and her partner Nancy Coryell are regular CRB volunteers, packing and handing out groceries. “Volunteering at these dinners with the CRB, I know I’m doing something that serves a purpose. The families who pick up their groceries are so thankful. It’s nice to see the smiles on their faces and it’s good to do something that’s not just giving money,” Shelley said with Nancy chiming in. “We do give money too. The entire operation has real costs to ensure these kids aren’t going to bed hungry.”
CRB’s food ministry provided to our partner schools is just one piece of the CRB pie.
In addition, CRB distributes 28+ tons through their partnerships with the Coffee Bunker, Lindsey House, and Empowering Families. CRB volunteers even bring food and people together by driving folks from Turley to shop the Cherry Street Farmer’s Market (check out this photo essay from Sally Godwin.)
Partners In Education is the PIE 🙂
Our education-focused team has served the faculty and students of Unity Learning Academy (formerly Jackson Elementary) for 28 years! Fourteen years ago, PIE expanded its reach to serve Gilcrease Elementary and most recently, McLain 7th Grade Academy. Through PIE volunteers, school kids have three types of “buddies,” Reading Buddies, Lunch Buddies, and Math Tutors. PIE Buddies spend an hour each week with their student at school, helping them with the basics. There are tons of other opportunities to volunteer with PIE, including incentive programs and Bike Club. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to get involved.
In PIE’s three schools, teachers also have buddies with our volunteer school liaisons Jenny Clyde, Bonnie Darby, and Nancy McDonald. They channel principals’ and teachers’ requests to small armies of volunteers get the job done.
“If we really want to make a difference, I know first-hand, that being in a classroom, helping a child learn to read, mastering math facts, learning a new game, providing them an opportunity to develop a lasting friendship makes a difference … for the child, for the teacher, and especially for me,” said Nancy. “I know that I am investing in their future and I know that my life has been enriched in doing so.”
Filling the Gaps for the Kids and the Teachers
Nicole Powell is a 3rd and 4th grade teacher and gives Nancy the biggest hug. Still in their embrace, she shares how much Nancy and PIE mean to her. “I would not be here still without PIE. They have worked tirelessly to change the situation in our classrooms for the better. Funding for education in Oklahoma is hard to come by and PIE helps to fill the gaps the district can’t provide.”
Again, the impact can’t be measured in a single story. But I hope you get the idea.
The work of our church is put into action by the members of our church.
The people who care and want to get dirty.
Those who take the time.
The families who pitch in together.
These are the people who have taught me, a newbie to Unitarian Universalism, the meaning of Love Beyond Belief—and they’ve shown me what it looks like.
It looks like a dad picking up groceries from Joe in a Santa hat and their exchange of laughter … that hug between Nancy and Nicole … the family I saw walking home, the brother skipping on the sidewalk with a bag of apples.
You Make All Souls Possible
In 2018, you can support the outreach efforts of our church by giving to the operating fund. In 2019, I invite all (yes, bring everybody!) to the sing-along, fun fest that is PIE’s annual Sing for Our Schools fundraiser on February 2, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. It’s such a great time and supports PIE directly.
Our annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, on May 1, 2019 at 5:30 p.m., supports the CRB. Ending our Wednesday Connections semester, all the bowls made in our ceramics class are donated to the silent auction. Joe serves up a “Day Center for the Homeless” meal—All Souls members feed the homeless every month too— and the bidding on bowls begins. It gets a little competitive, but that’s part of the fun! I purposely outbid our senior minister on at least one bowl because, well, why not? If you’d like to volunteer, email email@example.com. You can always support the CRB by bringing non-perishable foods to the pantry. Right now, there is a big need for canned, diced tomatoes!
BeyondBelief.online is All Souls exclusive blog. Stories about our free faith curated from the heartland. Bonita James serves as the editor of BeyondBelief and is passionate about finding ways to tell the stories of All Souls. If you’d like to share your story and write for BeyondBelief.online, email firstname.lastname@example.org.