Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stop an annual tradition put on by Alexandria, Virginia’s Alfred Street Baptist Church.
A line of cars were running in and out of the Nannie Lee Center on the southern edge of Old Town on Saturday, directed by volunteers who were taking names of those registered to pick up gift cards being given away just in time for the start of school.
Over the years, the event has only gotten bigger through the generosity of the church members and new corporate partnerships working to meet a need in the community.
“They’ll be able to leave here today, go grocery shopping on their own, go pick up school supplies, and get ready for a good fall,” said the Rev. Howard Wesley, pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church.
The cards can be used at stores like Target, Walmart and Burlington Coat Factory, making sure parents can provide kids with the pencils, paper and backpacks they’ll need for the school year ahead, along with a winter coat for when the weather turns cold.
That’s part of the church’s 19th annual Brother’s Keeper Outreach Project.
“This year, we serviced over 1,500 kids, over 600 families, and it’s just a blessing to be a blessing to others,” said Courtney Williams, one of the Brother’s Keeper project leads. “There’s a need to service the community, to give back, be a blessing to others.”
The church also teamed up with Giant and Safeway to help provide gift cards for groceries, part of its “Feed the 5,000” project.
“Many of these parents are struggling themselves, making sure their jobs are stable; they have multiple children going back,” noted Wesley, “and the church has an obligation to be in partnership to help those who may never cross the threshold of our doors, but live in our community.”
For him and the volunteers who stood in the heat to help those families out, it’s about demonstrating their faith through actions, not just words.
“Actually feeding and helping those in need, that’s the greatest expression of our faith,” said Wesley.
“One of the greatest critiques of the church, especially the Black church, is that they don’t do anything on the community. We’re looking to destroy that stereotype by being a congregation that says: ‘We’re not buying new church buildings, we’re not buying Rolls-Royce’s, we don’t have airplanes, we give more away than we keep to ourselves.'”
Wesley pointed to the group of volunteers who were getting people in and out of the parking lot, noting “they’re out here in the heat but they’re doing it out of love … no one is getting paid for doing this, people are out here because they want to serve.”