A coalition of 10 churches in North St. Louis County has pledged to support children and families within the Ferguson-Florissant and Riverview Gardens School Districts. Meals, educational activities, and counseling support services will be provided between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the event of school closures.
Their support comes in the wake of a grand jury’s decision regarding whether or not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown Jr. on August 9. Many anticipate weeks of unrest, if Wilson is not indicted. That decision is expected by mid to late November, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch said. Church leaders made the announcement during a press conference on Friday at Wellspring Church in Ferguson.
Much of the credit for the initiative was given to F. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring Church. Johnson was joined by Ferguson-Florissant School Board Member Paul Morris and other church leaders, including the Rev. Cedric Portis of Third Presbyterian Church and Rev. Steve Lawler of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Johnson said he hoped that the community’s reaction to the grand jury’s decision will be peaceful and not disruptive to the lives and education of students and their families.
“Wellspring Church, in concert with other communities of faith, has opened its doors, arms and hearts to provide places of refuge and strength for our families and constituents too young to understand,” Johnson said.
Education is an inalienable right of all people, Portis said. Teachers within the school districts will have an opportunity to volunteer at participating churches. Community members who wish to volunteer are also welcome. Background checks will be performed, Portis said. The Riverview Gardens School District is also working with St. Louis County Library and others to ensure that students receive educational support.
“Our churches are made up of children in nearly every school district across North County,” Portis said. “We have law enforcement, business owners, elected officials that are a part of church congregations.”
There is a huge need for food support, Lawler said. School meals may be the only nutritional meals students receive during the day and are significantly impacted by school closures, Lawler said. The school districts will provide breakfast and lunch to the church sites through their food service departments.
Seven participating churches are located within the Ferguson-Florissant School District and three within neighboring Riverview Gardens School District. Lawler estimates that the Ferguson-Florissant School District will provide more than 1,400 meals per day at church sites. And he expects Riverview Gardens School District to provide more than 500.
“We recognize the need to feed bodies,” Lawler said. “But, we also wanted to comfort troubled hearts and minds.”
Counselors with Provident Counseling and other community agencies will provide mental health resources at church sites for children and adults as needed. Provident provides counseling, crisis intervention, and community support programs to children and adults in the St. Louis region. The agency has six locations throughout the city.
Steve Sullivan, president and executive director of Provident, said the agency is one of many United Way agencies ready to dedicate its resources to Ferguson in the upcoming days.
Portis said he’s glad many can bear witness to what he described as “a change in business as usual – at least from the church community.” He went on to say that churches are meant to serve the community, and be served by it. He said this is only one of the ways that churches will serve the community.
“Together we’re going to get the wheel of this community rolling toward a better future,” he said.
A full list of participating include : Believer’s Temple Word Fellowship, Cross Keys Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Ferguson, Florissant General Baptist Church, Grace New Covenant Church, Greater Grace Church, Hope Church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Third Presbyterian Church, and Wellspring Church.
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