The 14-year-old wore his football jersey, wanting to present his best self for the photo.
A member of First Presbyterian Church encouraged the teen to write about playing football in his letter, which would accompany the photo. Both were for the housing project resident’s father, who was in prison.
“He was excited, but also a little nervous,” says another church member, Ceil Cowles, who snapped and printed his photo.
The teen reached his distant father with help from a culturally different group reaching out to him.
“I think we all grow stronger and wiser when we play and serve with people of diverse backgrounds,” says Rev. John White, pastor of the Jackson, Tenn., church, with about 190 attendees.
Church members wanted to help the poor, and stumbled upon the housing project.
“There wasn’t really a grand plan,” Cowles says. “We just made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and headed off.”
Children eagerly accepted the food. Adults, however, watched from their doors.
But, Cowles says, “We just continued.”
Every Sunday, while still in their church clothes, the group makes 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after services. Residents are waiting when they arrive each Monday afternoon.
A line forms for food, a child says the blessing and mingling begins. Volunteers help with homework, teach Bible stories or play games such as blowing bubbles or tossing a Frisbee. Sometimes they meet requests for glasses or school uniforms.
Occasionally, residents attend church. The adults now trust the group’s work. But the residents’ greatest need is for someone to spend time with them, according to Cowles.
“You have just a lot of very difficult situations,” Cowles says. “They want to be hugged on.”