Last Friday’s edition of the Des Moines Register (January 23) has a feature article on one of our mission organizations serving in the Iowa Conference. Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) is a faith-driven ministry, welcoming immigrants into our churches and communities by providing free, high-quality immigration legal services, education, and advocacy.
The Register article features the needs of unaccompanied immigrant children. It cites a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University that indicates that “nine of ten children who have appeared in immigration court without legal representation have been deported since 2005.”
However, 47 percent of children with legal representation were allowed to stay in the country. JFON attorneys in Iowa, Ann Naffier and Brynne Howard, shared their experiences working on these kinds of cases in an interview for the article.
Six clinic sites are hosted by United Methodist churches and their volunteers throughout the state. These clinics are offered on a monthly basis in Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Ottumwa, Des Moines, and Storm Lake. Decorah hosts a clinic quarterly.
JFON is affiliated with the Iowa Board of Global Ministries of the Iowa Conference. Funding for this ministry comes in part from apportionment dollars contributed by United Methodist congregations in Iowa. Learn more about JFON at their website, www.iajfon.org.
The United Methodist Church in Manchester has been offering a free supper every Monday evening called Second Helpings to individuals and families in need. The mission coordinator for the congregation, Tina Mead, says that around 160 people rely on the free meal every week. “All are welcome to sit at the table and enjoy supper with friends, family, and new faces from the community.”
Food and monetary donations have helped to sustain this ministry for the last ten years, including a Matthew 25 grant from the Northeast District, made possible by apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches throughout Iowa. Local groups are also encouraged to sign up to help serve the meals.
A summer ministry for children in poverty called Kids Lunch and Learn has developed from the church’s experience with Second Helpings. About 110 children have been served during the summer months in recent years each Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Time is available both for learning activities and enjoying a nutritious meal.
These ministries have grown out of the congregation’s understanding of its mission as “a community of faithful believers in Christ committed to living the scriptures through loving service and giving to our community and the world.”
The Backyard Boyz is multi-day after-school program for boys in grades 6 through 8 living just north of downtown Des Moines in the vicinity of Trinity United Methodist Church. The ministry empowers young men to explore the possibilities for growth and change within them, among them, and around them (in their own “backyard”).
During these coldest days of the year, for example, the Backyard Boyz are giving back to persons in the community who are living without the basics. For Martin Luther King Day, the middle school Boyz will serve homeless persons by packaging and distributing personal care packages, including such items as toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, deodorant, Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, lotion, combs, razors, shaving cream, water bottles, socks, hats, and gloves.
Young people who have aged out of the program and gone on to high school sometimes return as mentors. Not only does this encourage and inspire the next generation of Backyard Boyz. It also allows these older students to continue to work on their own self-development and leadership skills.
The Backyard Boyz represent only one component of a larger ministry, the Children and Family Urban Movement. CFUM’s mission “is to create a community that supports the potential of children, youth, and families through educational success, healthy living, and community engagement.” Matthew 25 funds from the Central District, made possible with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches all over Iowa, have helped to support CFUM.
The United Methodist Church is the home of the Lamoni Food Pantry. Decatur County, where the food pantry is located, is the poorest county in the state of Iowa with about 20% of its residents living in poverty. Across the United States 15.4% of rural households are food-insecure.
The food pantry was begun by the Ministerial Alliance. Over the years the need for a larger facility has grown. Now it is housed in the United Methodist Church basement so that families have room to choose the foods they need rather than having volunteers pick foods for them.
Matthew 25 grant monies, made possible with apportionment gifts from the United Methodist churches of Iowa, helped to buy paint, shelving, two freezers, and a refrigerator when the pantry moved to its current location. The freezers and refrigerator facilitated the ability to give out meats and occasionally items such as milk, cheese, eggs, and orange juice. The South Central District has continued to support this ministry with Matthew 25 funds.
The Lamoni Food Pantry also works with the school system to distribute sacks of food on the weekends to students and their families. Lice kits and a winter glove program are additional extensions of their ministries.