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Look for the helpers – They are in Lakeland

Volunteers at St. Paul UMC: From left, Rev. Dr. Birgette T. French, Brad Emerson, Ainsley Emerson, Bob Udovich, Karen Udovich, Rebecca Estridge, Frances Lawson and Shelby Udovich

By Deborah Thomas, Lakeland school board member

Deborah Thomas

Everyone’s much beloved, cardigan-wearing neighbor, Mr. Rogers, once shared the advice of his mother, who told him to remember these words in times of fear: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Last week, a new partnership between the City of Lakeland, Lakeland School System (LSS), and St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lakeland was formed to help Lakeland families in this time of uncertainty.

At the last Board of Commissioners meeting (4.9.20), Commissioner Wesley Wright added a resolution to the agenda to approve a partnership with St. Paul United Methodist Church. The resolution passed unanimously, and $8000 was designated for a one-time purchase of nonperishables and certain nonfood items.

Commissioner Wright began working on this initiative March 21st and contacted Tim Roberts, a Lakeland resident and store leader of the Kroger, Stonebridge Crossing on U.S. Highway 64.

Commissioner Wesley Wright, left, alongside his truck, picking up food items from Tim Roberts, store leader at Kroger, Stonebridge Crossing
Trinity Cervo using a straddle sacker at Kroger to load pallets onto truck of Commissioner Wesley Wright

Over 5,700 items were purchased from Kroger, including canned tuna, canned vegetables, jars of peanut butter, and a particularly difficult item to find these days—packs of toilet paper. The final cost of four pallets of food and supplies was $6,828.

Commissioner Wright and Brad Emerson, chairman of missions at St. Paul, picked up the items and unloaded them at the church.

Brad Emerson, left, receives food from Commissioner Wesley Wright at St. Paul UMC
Volunteers at St. Paul UMC packaging food items

Mr. Emerson then contacted Kim Pickens, student services and guidance facilitator for LSS, who began working with LSS guidance counselors to identify families who could benefit from this effort. Sarah Donaire, a third-grade teacher at Lakeland Elementary School (LES), served as a liaison to our Spanish-speaking families.

On Sunday (4.19.20), eight church members from St. Paul gathered to fill bags of food for families of between four and seven members. Volunteers included Bob and Karen Udovich and their daughter Shelby; Brad Emerson and his daughter Ainsley; Frances Lawson; Rebecca Estridge; and Reverend Pastor Birgitte T. French. These volunteers loaded food into five vehicles to deliver to 21 families in Lakeland. St. Paul added a $25 Kroger gift card to each family’s bag of food.

Flyer enclosed with food deliveries to families
Bob Udovich, left, and Brad Emerson loading food into vehicle for delivery to families

St. Paul’s pastor, Reverend Dr. Birgitte T. French, said of the effort, “When Brad Emerson contacted me, there was no doubt in my mind that we would participate. We are the hands and feet of Christ. This is one way we can model this belief in our community. It was a joy to watch people receive these gifts, and I hope we can work together to benefit our community in the future.”

City officials are also happy to see the idea come to fruition: “I am pleased to see that after weeks of work, this has come together so well,” said Commissioner Wright. “This has been a collaborative effort to ensure that our children and those in need are taken care of.”

If you would like to be one of the helpers with this effort, please visit www.stpaullakeland.com and scroll to “Online Giving” on the home page. Choose “General Budget” as the fund, and type “Lakeland Missions” in the comment field. The church’s missions team will use the money to continue helping Lakeland families.

… Photos by Jim Willis, Lakeland Currents