Looking Back and Looking Forward With the Faith Action Ministry

By Jamie Evanini and Barbara Schroeder Jensen

UUCWC has been working hard to put our faith into action, especially since the pandemic. We celebrate the work of everyone who has helped out so much and invite you to take a look at all we have done in this challenging time, and what we aim to do in the months ahead!

The Action Table

Like every other group at UUCWC, we had to quickly shift gears in late March. The weekly Action Table had been on target to meet our goal of facilitating 2,000 contacts of elected officials by the end of the year. From September 2019 to March 8, 2020 (our last in-person Sunday service), UUCWC members and friends visited the Action Table 717 times to take 1,382 actions! Our legislative advocacy at the Action Table covered a wide range of issues, chosen for their relevance to our eight UU principles, which we, as a member congregation of the UUA, have “covenant[ed] to affirm and promote.” We wrote letters and postcards, sent email, made phone calls, and signed petitions. Thank you to volunteer Mark Pokryska for helping out every week at the Action Table!

However, the shutdown turned our table into a weekly “Actions from Home” email sent out every Sunday morning through June 20th. This email published a list of online letter-writing actions to take on various issues, organizations to send donations to, and putting out calls for donations, such as masks for the Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, food and funds for our ESL students, food for the Ewing Helping Hands mutual aid network, and garden tools for the CATA – Migrant Farmworkers Support Group. The Actions from Home email is on summer break, but will return in September! If you would like to receive this email, please contact fam@uucwc.org to have your name added to the distribution list.

ESL Classes

Our devoted teachers, who had no experience whatsoever teaching ESL at the beginning of this year, never expected they would end the year teaching online! Marianne Alt, Bonnie Gilbert, Linda Carow, and Loren McAlister stepped up and adapted to continue, uninterrupted, with small and individual classes. Through our continued connection to our students, we learned about the hardships caused by the pandemic. In many families, everyone lost their jobs; in others, everyone fell ill to COVID-19. With the help of Damaris Morales, one of the students in the program and the cook for Cena Latina, and Pastora Olga Sanchez, minister of Living Waters Church, we were able to identify families in the wider community who have the most need. We had a goal of raising $1,000 and have more than tripled that goal and raised $3,255 so far! We have been overwhelmed by your generosity and your trust in us. We have delivered gift cards, food, medicine (and diapers!) to the doors of over 49 grateful families. We have also connected our congregants with families who needed jobs, who needed support through COVID and emergency surgeries, and needed to commiserate the stresses of e-teaching. We have also enlisted the students in our get out the vote initiatives. Not able to vote themselves, participating in this critical action empowers them and gives them an opportunity to use their voice to enact change. Things are slowly looking up, but still much work to do!

Black Lives Matter

In response to the Black Lives Matter uprising, the FAM has worked with Rev. Bryant to identify families most in need in his community. He said that the new climate has made it more imperative than ever for him to use his position to fight for racial justice, but he told also told me that speaking out makes his church a target for white supremacists, sharing that the original church structure on that site was burned down by the KKK in the 1960s. He continues undaunted and on behalf of his congregation, he would like to express their deep appreciation for helping their families during this most difficult time.

Food Insecurity

Janet Hubbard connected us with Sherry Dudas at Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington. We have been able to bring 21 boxes of fresh organic vegetables to the students of our ESL program, the congregants of St. James AME Church, and the families of Ewing Helping Hands.

Local Activism

We are currently working with local activists on initiatives that demand that the Hopewell Police Department and the Hopewell Valley school district become more transparent and accountable. Stay tuned with how you can help!

UU the Vote

Our UU the Vote activities, which were just getting started in March, had to be quickly rethought to allow for social distancing! As we near July 25th, which marks 100 days until the most important election of our lives, the Faith Action Ministry is gearing up for the crucial work of getting out the vote and working against voter suppression efforts in other states. We will be focusing on writing to voters and relational organizing in the weeks ahead.

Already, we have written 1000 postcards reminding people in hard-to-count Trenton neighborhoods to fill out their Census forms. We have also written and sent 2,130 postcards so far for Reclaim Our Vote, an non-partisan organization which supports voters of color in states with a history of voter suppression tactics. And, we are building up a stockpile (1600 so far) of get-out-the-vote letters for Vote Forward, a non-partisan group aiming to increase turnout among unlikely and typically underrepresented voters in swing states. These letters will be a part of Vote Forward’s “Big Send” initiative, which aims to put 10 million letters to potential voters in the mail one week before Election Day. We have had two postcard/letter-writing parties via Zoom so far, and more are in the works.

You might have noticed another of our UU the Vote activities — the CensUUs Texting Team! With the help of Michele Ruopp, about thirty volunteers will be contacting every UUCWC member and friend to remind them to fill out the Census, and to encourage them to remind their own friends and family to do so as well. We hope to use this same kind of texting/phone tree structure for a similar get-out-the-vote initiative in September and October.

Our relational organizing initiative will begin with a Zoom Gathering in late July – stay tuned for details. This kick-off event will show you how to effectively reach out to people in your own network to encourage them to register and vote. This has been shown to be FAR more powerful in increasing turnout than phone banking or canvassing conversations with strangers. Please join us for this important work to UU the Vote!

We would be so grateful for help with any of these initiatives. To find out more information or to get involved, email FAM@UUCWC.org.