ORLANDO – A generous grant from United Methodist Communications' Rethink Church campaign is helping a Florida Conference church reach out to the surrounding community through mission.
“Orlando Serves,” a volunteer service event organized by First UMC, Orlando, is recruiting not only worshipers at the church but also community residents to come join in a day of helping neighbors in need on Sunday, Sept. 27. Click here for information and registration.
Carla Cox, servant ministries coordinator for the church, said the idea grew out of the East Central District “SundayServe” weekend, an annual event that began in 2012 with volunteers from United Methodist churches across the district uniting to send a message of God’s love through community service on the same weekend.
Last year, First UMC decided to participate in SundayServe by sending 90 volunteers to a single location, the Community Food and Outreach Center (CFOC), Cox recalled.
“Our goal was to serve as a whole congregation at one location and make a big difference in the community,” she said.
The nonprofit outreach center, founded by pastors, is located about 2 miles from First UMC in downtown Orlando. It not only provides food at a steep discount and crisis aid to families in poverty but also counseling, computer skills training and job search assistance.
First UMC volunteers like the CFOC concept, which includes grocery store racks stocked with goods much the same way as a for-profit retailer would display them, Cox said.
“So it looks like you’re in a real grocery store and not in a food pantry,” she explained. “Their whole model is giving a hand up, not a handout.”
Volunteers cleaned and stocked shelves and performed other jobs needed to keep the store operating. Along the way, they found they were not only helping their community but enjoying fellowship with others from First UMC who typically attend a different worship service.
“It had a huge impact on our congregation,” Cox said. “There was a really neat connection there.”
This year, church leaders decided to expand the service opportunities and share the experience with others outside the congregation. Rethink Church agreed to fund radio spots recruiting volunteers on four prominent local stations and help with a website for the event.
Cox said she did not know the precise amount of the grant, but the radio spots alone cost $20,000. The grant also will cover T-shirts and water bottles for up to 200 volunteers and a large printed banner to publicize the event.
The church is absorbing some minimal costs, such as the domain name for the website, Cox said.
The event will start at 9 a.m., and volunteers can choose among morning, afternoon and evening shifts at four different outreach organizations that provide services to hungry, homeless or disadvantaged neighbors in the downtown Orlando area. In addition to CFOC, the service sites are Christian Service Center, where volunteers will serve lunch through the Daily Bread program; Coalition for the Homeless, where volunteers will play games with children living in the coalition’s Women and Children’s Center; and Orlando Union Rescue Mission, where volunteers will serve lunch to women and children in this transitional housing facility.
First UMC’s biggest role will be to organize the volunteer labor pool into shifts and provide transportation to the service sites, where parking often is limited, Cox said.
The congregation hopes to cultivate the connections made during Orlando Serves by recording a video and inviting all the volunteers back to view it at the church on a subsequent Sunday.
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.