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Cass in ministry during pandemic

Taking temps at Cass Community Social Services

Cass Community Social Services has “been there” for the vulnerable residents of Detroit for decades. And the 2020 pandemic may have changed their ministry but it has not stopped it. 

JOHN E. HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications

During the Great Depression, Cass Methodist Episcopal Church opened its doors to the crisis in the City of Detroit. They began a feeding program that continues to this day, meeting the needs of thousands of Detroiters every week. 

In the days of the slow decline of the city, as it went from 2 million to 700,000 in population and “white flight” took hold, Cass Church was there, ministering to the residents of the Cass Corridor with hope and light in the face of darkness and blight. And now, as the city has moved into a time of tremendous growth and rebirth, Cass continues to reach out to those who are often left behind — the homeless, hungry, sick, and unemployed.

Today, Cass Community Social Services faces another crisis with the same passion, which has inspired its ministry throughout the decades. Here are some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted Cass. Two people in permanent supportive housing have died, and two have tested positive and are under quarantine. One rotating shelter resident was taken for testing, and one staff member has tested positive, so the housing program has been quarantined for 14 days. Two staff members have lost family members but have continued to work despite their sense of loss.

The Rev. Faith Fowler, pastor of Cass Community UMC and Executive Director of Cass Community Social Services, says, “Our staff members are trying to keep each other safe and do heroic things at the same time. They are working double shifts and covering for each other to serve the needs of the community.”

The shut-down has impacted the way Cass does ministry, but the central mission of providing food and housing continues. The current crisis has meant the closing of some of their non-essential services.  They have restricted access to the residential programs to homeless persons and the staff, with everyone having their temperatures taken at the door. The daily community lunch program is now carry-out, and the team has been delivering groceries to the homes of 60-70 recently unemployed and quarantined families. The medical clinic continues to fill prescriptions through their program at Cass Church.

Packing food boxes at Cass Community Social Services
Packing food boxes at Cass Community Social Services. Rev. Faith Fowler reports that staff has been delivering groceries to the homes of 60-70 recently unemployed and quarantined families. ~ photo courtesy Cass Community Social Services

The rotating shelter has been extended through May, and every night they are housing about 100 people in the Thomasson building, 100 in the Scott Center, and 100 in the apartments. “Our biggest concern,” says Rev. Fowler, “is in the congregate shelters where 50 people are sharing the same space. Should anyone get sick, the likelihood is that everyone will get sick.” 

Though work on the construction of the tiny homes has stopped, they already have 19 residents in their own homes, and the plans are in place for further development as soon as work can resume.

Fowler said, “Church groups, individuals, and our regular donors have been so generous! It encourages us as we try to meet the needs of the community in this challenging time.” However, in a time of increased need, Cass is facing severe shortages as well. The Annual Dinner, their largest fund-raiser of the year, had to be postponed. Some of the regular funding streams in the city have been stretched beyond capacity. The opportunities for volunteer teams from churches, which provide not only much-needed labor but also generate financial support, have been canceled for the time being. All of those disruptions impact the rotating shelter, green industries, feeding programs, and the entire ministry.

There are many ways congregations can assist Cass during the pandemic. First, financial support and food, both prepared and non-perishable, is crucial. Second, Cass desperately needs the following:  gloves and face masks, hand sanitizer, liquid soap, laundry soap, and bleach. Fowler expressed her thanks to “… the generous folks who have stepped up to provide funds, masks, gloves, food, and even DVDs.  Since we have little for the persons in the shelters to do, a variety of DVDs has been a real gift.”

Cass Community Social Services is a Ministry Partner with EngageMI. If you or your church would like to support the ministry at Cass, go online today. You can donate through the website, send funds and other donations by mail or deliver them to the World Building, 11745 Rosa Parks Blvd, Detroit, MI 48206. Help Cass Community continue their life-giving ministry during the COVID-19 crisis.

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