NYAC Sets Aside Nearly a Half Million Dollars for PPE to Help Churches Reopen Safely

NYAC Sets Aside Nearly a Half Million Dollars for PPE to Help Churches Reopen Safely

8/27/2020

By Lisa Isom, Director of Communications, New York Annual Conference
(Photos by Tamara Jackson)
Aug. 27, 2020 | White Plains, NY

As we’ve all seen in the past few months, church reopening can be challenging.

But for more than 400 United Methodist Churches in the New York Annual Conference (NYAC), the bar was set even higher largely due to the stringent standards set by the states of New York, Connecticut, and the detailed Covid-19 Reopening Guidelines for Church Reopening developed by Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton and his Church Reopening Task Force.  
 
All this was for good reason. Ultimately, the decisions concerning when and how we resumed in-person worship, fellowship, and other activities rested squarely on the shoulders of the Annual Conference.  
 
We were determined to move forward in a way that allowed our local churches to reopen in the safest way possible, Bishop Bickerton explains.
 
“My role as Bishop is to do everything possible to make sure that the heart of our theology and the expression of our faith was in alignment. Our people are to be cared for, loved, and assured that in the midst of these uncertain times there is someone, somewhere that will make sure they are affirmed, safe, and blessed.”
 
But creating the Guidelines was soon revealed to be just the first step in the long journey toward reopening. 
 
According to the NYAC Guidelines, local churches were expected to plan for and provide deep cleanings, detailed signage, and a decent stash of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure that things like disinfectants, hand sanitizers, free-standing dispensers, signage and more would be readily available not just for reopening, but for the long haul.
 
Seems Easy Enough—Not!
 
The Task Force soon learned that finding basics like toilet paper and disinfectant wipes would be  a lot like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. NYAC clergy would be hard pressed to quickly locate the materials identified as necessary to receive the Conference’s literal Seal of Approval (yes, compliant churches received a seal for placement in the building) needed to reopen safely.
 
Add to this the need to ensure that the quality of the PPE would be sufficient to keep all safe and it becomes easy to see the dilemma.
 
The Annual Conference immediately set aside nearly a half million dollars to purchase the most effective type and amount of PPE and other bulk supplies for distribution as part of what became a new “Safe Reopening Supplies Initiative.”

Tom  Vencuss, NYAC Director of Missions and Disaster Response, came forward as a resource. Through his years of ongoing work with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), he’s met challenges in places like Post-Hurricane Sandy New York, Haiti and Puerto Rico.
 
Vencuss—who has had more than his fair share of experience doing the difficult things needed to manage material acquisitions, distribution planning and logistics—began assembling a team of volunteer helpers made up of Conference staff, clergy, and laity.
 
Together with his wife Wendy, the NYAC Abundant Health Coordinator, Vencuss set out to manage what would become a massive effort.
 
According to Vencuss, their role was straightforward: Gather the materials needed to reopen NYAC churches with a spirit of discernment and in a way that put the safety of our pastors and people front and center.
 
For the initial request, Vencuss worked with Home Depot who has an established relationship with UMCOR and was more than willing to help.
 
How Many Masks and Bottles of Hand Sanitizer Fit in a Two-Story Building?
 
Turns out, the answer is about 3200 gallons of disinfectant, 1800 gallons of hand sanitizer, 200,000 masks, 100,000 gloves, 2000 customized posters and signage, a few thousand spray bottles, and about 500 free-standing dispensers.
 
Over a period of about a month volunteers sorted, stacked, rolled, and packed all the PPE into boxes that would eventually be loaded onto trucks driven by clergy and District Superintendent volunteers.
 
Teams delivered boxes to about ten Cooperative Parish locations across the Conference for distribution to every NYAC church. “We are so thankful to everyone who allowed this to happen in spite of supply chain constraints that continue to impact the availability of large quantities of PPE,” Vencuss says.
 
Deliveries took about two days and distribution to churches were rolled out over the course of one week.But the journey to delivery day was not without its bumps. Vencuss, for instance, soon discovered the need to work with multiple suppliers to manage scarcity issues.
 
“It was a challenge. In some instances, a supplier would have one thing and not another. And as we see with other responses like Puerto Rico and domestic outreach, supplies are reallocated to locations with the highest need. The Federal Emergency Management Agency can re-direct supplies as well.” Vencuss explains.
 
“We were very lucky to get the supplies we ended up with and blessed that it all came together in a way that helps our churches “be the church” in mission and ministry to their communities.”