--By Sara Richardson--
A Christmas dinner at Erie’s San Juan United Methodist Church celebrated business and community partnerships that led to the renovation of the kitchen and fellowship hall used for daily free lunches and neighborhood events. The dinner and ribbon-cutting on Dec. 19 was open to all.
GE Transportation’s GE Outreach and Bay City Mill Works provided manpower and material for major renovations to the space, where San Juan and Erie City Mission provide meals to about 150 people on weekdays. The volunteers repaired damaged walls and ceilings and replaced old lights with new LED fixtures, creating a cleaner, safer kitchen and dining facility.
“The love in their hearts and the care with which they did this was absolutely tremendous,” said the Rev. Mary Stewart, pastor of San Juan and neighboring Henderson United Methodist churches. Although the churches have limited resources, their outreach is vital to residents of the area.
“We are right in the center of the neediest part of the city,” she explained. “We are working with the poor in our community. We need to partner to accomplish what we do.”
Several neighborhood residents were at the ribbon cutting and dedication. Chari, Janet, Ola and Cynthia all said they look forward to coming there. “I come to the fellowship,” Janet said. “We enjoy coming to eat and mingle with the friends we have made.”
Daisy Santiago, administrative council chairperson for San Juan, said the space is essential for the church. “As a church we use this area for a classroom, for fellowship after service, to celebrate each other’s birthdays. We gather here to speak about church and what the message meant for us,” she explained.
Collaborations such as those with GE Transportation, Bay City Mill Works, and City Mission allow the larger Erie community to join with San Juan in serving neighbors in need.
“The community comes to our doors every day. The children are always knocking,” Stewart said. “We offer lunches Monday to Friday, serve 82 families with food boxes, take kids on trips during our summer program – but ministry with the poor is something you can’t do by yourself. You need the cooperation of all sorts of elements of the community.”
At the dedication, a local family who wished to remain anonymous served food for more than 200 people and provided gifts for the children who were there. The family gathers to offer a meal and gifts in a new location each year.
Donations for San Juan UMC may be made through the Conference Treasurer’s office designated for Conference Advance #EM001500-J.