Ray Valenzuela, the associate pastor of Chesapeake Conference’s Hagerstown Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland, United States, was thinking about how the church could help families displaced by a fire in the nearby Woodbridge Apartments, when a representative from the Red Cross called to ask if they were willing to open up the church as a resource center.
According to news reports, the fire was started by a lightning strike on August 23, 2017. All residents were ultimately accounted for, however the three-story building sustained significant damage as almost 100 firefighters responded to tackle the blaze. The fire left 74 occupants homeless.
For the past several days, Valenzuela, local church members and leaders from other local faith and community organizations have been collecting and distributing food, gift cards, clothes and providing medical services to the impacted residents. He estimates they have already helped 35-40 people, and the church plans to continue to be open to distribute food and clothes.
On Sunday, August 27, the local church hosted a previously planned block party with a dunk tank, slip and slide, free food, back-to-school haircuts and games. This gave community members another opportunity to donate gift cards and school supplies to those impacted. Besides physical resources, volunteers also offered prayer and spiritual support. “What a blessing that we already had this [event] planned,” says Valenzuela. “Now we’re shifting focus, using it as an event to collect funds to help these families. Many of them have lost everything and are starting from scratch. The blessing is that different organizations are coming to offer help as well.”
Valenzuela says church members have been feeling the need to be more of a presence in the community and wondering if “our community would even notice if we weren’t there,” he says. As a result, the leadership team started planning bimonthly events, like the block party. After opening up the church as a resource center for those impacted by the fire, Valenzuela reports that many people who have never heard of or seen the church are now entering it to receive or drop off supplies.
An original version of this story was published by the Columbia Union Visitor.