This semester, Urban Initiative ministries have pivoted to meet the current restrictions resulting from the pandemic. These ministries are engaging students in alternative ways by ministering through Zoom or other relational, yet socially distanced, activities.
Matt Smith, Urban Initiative’s local coordinator, outlined how each of the five ministries has changed as a result of COVID-19. Conversation Cafe, a ministry in which students intentionally build relationships with international students studying in Santa Barbara, currently meets over Zoom. While Bread of Life, a local weekly meal-sharing program, is meeting in person, Urban Initiative is unable to send Westmont students at this time. Jesus Burgers, a ministry that provides free burgers to UCSB students, is engaged in a book club to explore the impact of Jesus Burgers. Training C.A.M.P and Kids Club, ministries that focus on helping lower-income children, are unable to meet.
Even though Westmont students are unable to volunteer with Kids Club, the ministry is still flourishing. Kids Club is a partnership with Querencia, a non-profit that helps families in the Lower Eastside neighborhood. Holly Gill, the co-founder of Querencia, stated that the traditional format of Kids Club is no longer feasible, as “40 children in our living room or even our backyard just isn’t safe.”
Despite the challenges, Gill has continued to stay in contact with the kids and their families. One Kids Club leader is even leading a Bible study with three junior high girls. Gill stressed that Querencia has had to shift most of their efforts because of the pandemic. When COVID-19 struck, the inequities in Santa Barbara became more prominent. She stated that most of the families that Querencia serves are undocumented and are therefore ineligible for unemployment or stimulus checks. Additionally, most of these families lost their jobs because of the pandemic. To address these issues, Holly shared that Querencia started the Esperanza Family Fund to relieve these families’ financial burdens. Providing rent relief and grocery cards to families, the Esperanza Family Fund has already provided $120,000 of relief to Eastside community members.
While Westmont students cannot volunteer with Kids Club at this time, Gill expressed that students can still engage with this ministry by praying for the kids and their families and by spreading the word about the Esperanza Family Fund. Additionally, Gill hopes to organize a reading and tutoring program, as children in the Eastside community are experiencing reading loss because of the pandemic. When this opportunity becomes available, Holly suggested that Westmont students could volunteer their time.
While the pandemic has shifted how Urban Initiative is ministering, Smith maintained that Westmont students can continue to serve their communities. He stated that the loss of in-person contact has been difficult for Urban Initiative, as its ministry has traditionally been conducted in embodied ways. However, he stressed that students can still learn about their city and engage in ministry creatively throughout this year.