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Free masks are clipped onto railings in front of the Episcopal Chruch of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio, on Feb. 18, 2022.

Church of the Good Shepherd offers free masks, meals and coffee

In this time of uncertainty with the coronavirus pandemic, one local church is helping create a sense of community built around helping its neighbors. The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 64 University Terrace, has created a few different strategies of its own when it comes to offering help and more to the community. 

“We’re committed until we get that all clear, and maybe even a little after,” Deborah Woolsey, rector of the Church, said. “We're not going to pretend it's not happening. We're in this with you.”

The Church offers free masks to all in the community who may need one. Originally hung on the tree, the masks can now be found attached to the handrails on the front stairs. 

“Very early in the pandemic, probably April or May of 2020, we were given 150 free masks from one of our ministry partners,” Woolsey said. “We weren't meeting in person, so we didn't need the masks. So, we decided to share them with the community.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the church has given away about 2,300 masks, Woolsey said. For as long as masks are needed, the Church has no plans of ending this amenity. 

“I think it's awesome that the church is looking out for people’s safety,” Adam Schlosser, a freshman studying journalism, said. “Some people might not have access to that easily, given different circumstances. So the fact that they're able to provide that for people is pretty awesome.”

The church believes that masks shouldn’t be out of reach when the world is experiencing such trying times. 

“If you're going to have mandates where people have to have them, I think they should be offered for free because people forget,” Woolsey said. “So we just started buying them and putting them out.”

It’s not just masks that the church offers to the community, but also coffee and tea. Having started about four years ago, The Crossroads Cafe has allowed the church to participate in the local economy and create unique bonds with students and citizens. 

“The bishop of our diocese approached me and said he would like to explore how we can participate in the local economy in a way that expresses our Christian values and identity,” Woolsey said. “We looked at a lot of different models, and came up with starting a coffee shop.”

There are no credit cards or loyalty points; only cash is accepted. But the cafe has a unique program in place for those in the community who may not have cash. 

“It’s called ‘Pay It Forward,’ so someone has paid for it,” Woolsey said. “It's not a debt, you owe nothing. You can take your coffee and leave and never come back, or you can come back and pay for your coffee, get another cup of coffee or you can contribute to that Pay It Forward fund.”

The Pay It Forward program has been an appealing option for both students and citizens. 

“The pay it forward program is a pretty smart idea,” Schlosser said. “People want coffee and, given different circumstances that people might have, that’s cool.”

It’s much more than just cups of coffee that the cafe offers, it’s a place designed to allow for community bonds to flourish. 

Eleanor Halbauer serves as the manager of The Crossroads Cafe. Halbauer really enjoys working at Crossroads because it gives her an opportunity to be a mom to all of the customers who stop by.

“It's a space for them to feel comfortable, to be able to vent problems, to discuss concepts of what they need to do, to kvetch about being a grown up,” Halbauer said.

Although Crossroads offers a lot more than just refreshments to the community, the customer base has been relatively small. Making the shop more established is a goal for Woolsey and Halbauer. 

“I would love for it to be filled with students doing homework,” Halbauer said. “I would love for it to keep growing and to have a lot more people feel comfortable coming in and enjoying the good coffee.”

Before the pandemic, the church offered a weekly meal open to anyone in the community. With troubles finding volunteers and precautions in regard to the pandemic, the church has changed its approach when it comes to addressing food insecurity. 

“We've got a cabinet over there that's stocked with non-perishable food items that people can get 24/7,” Woolsey said. “We've advertised it not just as where you can come and get food, but you can donate food. That's been really pleasurable for us to see how many people want to participate.”

From masks to coffee and food items, The Church of the Good Shepherd has no plans to stop its offerings to the community. 

“We're committed as long as this is going,” Woolsey said. “We all hope that next month, it'll be over. As long as this is going, we will offer masks.”

To learn more, watch the video here:

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