Pictured Above: Members and volunteers at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary preparing grocery items for community members. (USF/Malique Ferrette)
By Malique Ferrette
With so many people still in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church has prioritized community outreach to better serve others.
Human Services Director for the church, Anegla Rouson, said that they started the program in August 2020 in response to the pandemic.
“Food security is a concern in the Midtown area pre-COVID-19, but the pandemic has made it more urgent because there are so many folks who are affected by being out of work or being on lockdown for whatever reasons so, um, the urgency is even greater right now,” Rouson said.
After seeing the food bank offered by the St. Petersburg Free Clinic in the downtown area, she was convinced that the Midtown community could benefit from similar services. What followed was a conversation with Feeding Tampa Bay and the beginnings of a permanent partnership between them and the church. This allows the church to host drive through food distribution events every two weeks.
According to Rouson, the response to the initiative, has been overwhelmingly positive.
Ronald Dock, a member of the church and frequent volunteer for the program, shared that at one point, cars would be wrapped around the block just waiting to receive food. However, when it comes to actually sharing their faith it was different.,
“If someone approached me and said, you know, ‘God bless you,’ I’d say ‘God bless’ back but you know, that’s the last thing I would ever do; push any religion on anybody. You run people away with that,” Dock said.
Dock said that they leave the door open for people to ask for prayers or to inquire about the church, but the main focus is just serving and sharing the love of Christ through that service. He shared that they try to have an impact directly on the community living within a 2-mile radius from the church; as is also shared in the church’s vision statement.
Yet another volunteer at the church, McRay, said that though this is not her home church, she felt like she needed to do something to help after seeing so many people lacking food during the pandemic.
“I was glad to see that Mount Zion was doing this.I feel like I am doing something now and that was most important to me,” she said.
The community has responded to the outreach program in so many ways. Some via social media, others through a phone call to the church to say thank you and some, on the spot, before leaving the event. Other volunteers helping the church shared that because the distribution is set up as a drive-though, not many people will get out of their cars to talk. Most of the time, they rather drive along and might even honk their horns while leaving but that could be all. Even so, volunteers say that they know they are making a difference.
Upon arriving at the church, drivers are immediately directed toward a specific lane in the parking lot by orange cones laid out for guidance. While waiting in line as cars get closer to the food for the hand-off, a volunteer approaches vehicles to ask questions to help determine how much food to allot to each family.
At the same time, other volunteers approach different cars sharing pamphlets and brochures with other resources, such as affordable courses offered by St. Petersburg College and different programs that may even help people pay rent.
Eventually, each car reaches the end of the line where drivers are then asked to open their trunks to allow for the placement of bags and boxes of food; both perishable and nonperishable. Should there be no trunk space, the back seats are also optional.
Rouson stated that this initiative is intended to be long term or at least long enough to allow the church to sufficiently aid the Midtown community.
One of the church’s core values reads:
“We serve enthusiastically – ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’ 1 Peter 4:10”
To date, some may say that Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church is indeed doing its best to commit to that particular value.