By Jo Russell Lewis
“The haircut is free?” asked a fourth-grade boy asked as he waved a flyer his family found on the doorknob of their apartment.
“Absolutely!” a First Baptist Church of Pinetop member assured him.
The haircutting event was one of a half-dozen events in their “Love Your Neighbor Program” designed to give low-income residents a “hand up” instead of a “hand out.” The church is located at 1901 East White Mountain Boulevard, Pinetop, in the rural eastern Arizona mountain country.
Professional beautician Chelsy Thomas donated her time as she came equipped for clipping and styling. She kept busy during the two-and-a-half hour event.
The turnout was one that met needs. One grandmother waved the newspaper article about the program events and commented, “I saved this so I would remember the date. I’m on social security and just got custody of two grandchildren a few weeks ago. I didn’t know what I was going to do to get them ready for school.”
As part of the continuing Love Your Neighbor program, the church offered free children’s haircuts just in time for the beginning of school. The target families have been low-income and struggling families in the White Mountain area. Many live directly across the street from the church.
Eleanor Brewer, wife of Pastor Coy Brewer, had lamented, “No matter what we tried, we haven’t been able to reach the people in the low-income housing across the street.” She continued, “They have many needs. What else can we try?”
Navajo County’s household income for more than one in four families is $20,000 per year or less. Coupled with an un employment rate of 9.2 percent, many need extra help.
With that, ideas came bursting from one adult class that had just finished a study on community outreach. It became a church-wide team effort as the Love Your Neighbor program came to life.
The concept behind all the events was providing services struggling families may not be able to afford as well as fun activities with childcare provided. Church members used their own skills and resources to teach, mentor and help.
Though members suggested valuable services and activities, such as after-school tutoring, free oil changes, cooking classes, and other how-to workshops, the members looked around for the time and talent within their group and the church. What could they do right now?
The church brainstormed a cookout to kick off summer fun, haircuts just before school, scrapbooking, two cooking classes in the fall, a big welcome to the church’s Thanksgiving dinner, and a church-wide Christmas toy drive for children newborns through 12 years old. These gifts would be delivered directly door to door to the apartment residents.
Large boxes around the church held gifts collected beginning in the late summer to get a good response and have plenty of time without competing with Operation Christmas Child or the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Church members and visitors donated more than 117 new toys for the 110 apartments.
After each event, the class assessed the success of the event and modified future activities as needed. Newspaper publicity didn’t necessarily work. This seemed to be linked to the local newspaper’s online access and decline in subscribers.
But in the entire rural White Mountain area, word of mouth is effective. Therefore, publicity for the events was in the newspaper, but also in the form of reminders hung on each doorknob and business-card-sized print-outs of the outreach events. The hands-on publicity involved the youth group, whose enthusiasm readily caught the interest of residents.
Some events worked and some were a bust.
The program kick-off before the haircuts was a summer barbeque with child care, games, music and food. About one hundred attended, and a number of the children returned for Vacation Bible School the next week as well as joining the AWANA program. It was a success. So was the hair-cutting event.
The well-organized scrapbooking class headed up by Eleanor Brewer welcomed teens to adults, providing child care, refreshments and all scrapbooking materials and instruction. But no one came except church members.
“Maybe the reason that none of the low-income families came is because this is not a real need but is just fun,” one member suggested. “Wait until the cooking class. They really need that.”
Members involved in the church’s food box ministry had commented that when residents picked up boxes, they tossed the uncooked rice and dry beans into the dumpster beside the building.
In preparation for the cooking classes, the good cooks of the church provided Jo Russell Lewis with filling, nutritious family recipes, including the basics of rice, beans, biscuits, pancakes and soup stock. She put together a cookbook. The main dish section included many easy and economical casseroles and recipes for chicken and beef.
Lewis put the recipes together in a spiral-bound cookbook printed at the church office. It would be distributed for free. The inside cover featured an illustrated food pyramid, and the back cover provided an illustrated guide to the ABCs of accepting Jesus. This was patterned after the ABCs of accepting Jesus used for Vacation Bible School.
With other good cooks, including Kara Helland and Dolly Peck, the demonstrators involved teen friends and family members in showing how easy it was to put together great meals from basics, such as in the food box.
But the Saturday mid-morning event was only attended by church members. This could have been because of residents work schedules, illness, care-giving responsibilities, or that the class fell on the same day as another community event.
Whatever the reason residents did not attend, the work and planning were not wasted. The give-away cookbooks were a great success. Many cookbooks still got to the low-income apartments from residents there who attend First Baptist of Pinetop or who came to the church Thanksgiving dinner. Older church attendees gave the cookbooks to their grown children with families. It has been a help to all.
Unlike a fund-raiser type church cookbook, which costs $10 to reap the expense of printing, the free publication provided valuable info for all families and the great message of knowing Jesus as well.
Overall, the Love Your Neighbor program is alive and well. It has certainly taught members of First Baptist Church of Pinetop how to walk in Jesus’ steps today.