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San Francisco Zion Church members have not met in person since February, but they have found their own way of coming together.
For the last few weeks, the Vacaville-based congregation of about 200 members has mobilized around two projects: a letter writing and poster campaign for regional firefighters, and a blood drive benefiting the Red Cross.
The congregation has written hundreds of colorful letters and posters, sending them to fire stations across the greater San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento. They sent many of the cards and posters as a digital video slideshow, and also sent their letters via U.S. Mail, said Greg Bernard, church coordinator.
The gestures have been well received, particularly by the City of Vallejo Fire Department, whose deputy chief, Kyle Long, expressed his thanks for the congregation’s “kind words and pictures.”
The projects are part of the five-year-old church’s yearly volunteer efforts, which help keep congregation members connected to the community. COVID precautions put the volunteer work on hold at first, but last month the church began to look for new opportunities, Bernard said.
Upcoming projects include a food and supplies drive for families affected by recent fires.
Meanwhile, the letter and poster campaign got the congregation’s creative juices flowing. Congregation member Sherrene Tan involved her entire family of five.
A Vacaville resident, she did not have to evacuate when wildfires tore through Solano County in August. But Tan had heard that firefighters had been working around the clock with little sleep and wanted to show her appreciation.
“I can be in the comfort of my own house, and get eight hours of sleep because of someone else’s effort,” she said. “I think about them, being in an uncomfortable zone with so much heat and smoke. We should all think about them.”
Just as medical personnel have been thanked for all their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tan said firefighters need recognition for their courageous work.
“They are all heroes to us,” she said.
The congregation’s blood drive, scheduled to begin November 11, sustains the community in a different way.
San Francisco Zion Church looks for volunteer activities that can make the biggest difference, and blood drives are one way to do that, Bernard says.
The ongoing health crisis has cut into blood donations, Kerry Morris, Red Cross regional manager of donor recruitment, said in a statement. And COVID-19 is not the only challenge. Wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington have led to the cancellation of more than 120 separate blood drives.
“Volunteer donors are the only source of blood for those undergoing transplant surgeries, fighting cancer and facing serious illnesses,” Morris noted.
Morris added that the Red Cross is testing all blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Plasma that tests positive may be processed into a convalescent plasma product to help patients who have the virus.
Bernard said most of the congregation’s members have signed up to be part of the drive, and Morris noted those contributions will be a big help to blood collection efforts. The need for blood is constant, Morris said, and the Red Cross depends on partnerships like this one to meet the needs of patients.
The church’s volunteer efforts are giving the congregation a positive boost during a very difficult time.
Religious services have generated some controversy during the pandemic because of outbreaks that have occurred as a result of in-person attendance, Bernard said.
From his perspective, religious institutions need to act on their core beliefs by helping their communities and people who are downtrodden, he said, adding that churches should also be collaborating with the government on disease prevention measures.
San Francisco Zion Church continues to meet for services online.
“I’m very excited about the volunteer work we are doing,” Bernard said.