The In-reach/Outreach Committee at Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Medford, NJ

By Diana Pasca

“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.” Luke 10:33

Most of us are overwhelmed by the busyness of our lives and the incessant demands on our attention - so overwhelmed that we often miss the little signs of God’s presence and activity around us. In contrast, Jesus took time to notice His surroundings, and He often saw and then pointed out great spiritual truths in the common, everyday experiences of life. I think He gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan because it captures the lesson of faithful living.  Compassion does not begin and end with feelings. As in the parable of the Good Samaritan, feeling for another should lead to action. Taking care of another’s needs begins with identifying the needs.

Our small parish developed an In-reach/Outreach Committee over 12 years ago to examine the needs and respond in consistent and organized ways whenever possible, both to our own community and as well as to the greater community. Throughout the year we sponsor activities aimed at educating parishioners about resources in the community, building relationships and giving purpose to our coming together.  Presently, our Committee consists of nine members, including our priest, Fr. John Shimchick.

  • Some of our monthly In-reachareas include: visiting the elderly and homebound, preparing meals for those who are sick, in need, or grieving the loss of a loved one, engaging in phone calls that gives us a glimpse into the lives of faithful parishioners, escorting people to appointments.  We have also enlisted the choir to seasonally visit and sing for the homebound and those in nursing homes/assisted living facilities. They sing generally at Christmas, and again in late winter/ early Spring.
  • We welcome visitors and new members and inform them of parish activities and organizations. We have enlisted our enthusiastic children through church school to make cards, bake, and create other items for our homebound parishioners.
  • Our Community Luncheon project is now in its’ 21st year. Each month, volunteers prepare a meal for our homebound folks, and for a community soup kitchen which provides food for 100 people each week. The soup kitchen is a collaborative effort of several local churches in our area. Over the years, teens have been enlisted to work in this project, building long lasting relationships with adult members in a different capacity, and receive community service hours for high school.
  • Twice each year, our college students are sent homemade cookies to help with their studies, and so they know we remember them.
  • Each winter and just before Great Lent, we offer the parish our “Healthy Options” Program during coffee hour. We begin with Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims for Christian Living,” and bring in speakers, often our own members; Doctors, Attorneys, Physical Therapists, and Social Workers who address a variety of topics: Exercise and Nutrition, Eye Care, Advanced Directives, Estate Planning and Putting Your House in Order, Aging with Dignity, Wellness Strategies, Stress Relief etc., and how it all works with our faith.
  • Our Covered Dish Supper and Family Fun Night highlights our good cooks, followed by games of all kinds for adults and children.
  • Some of our Outreach activities include: Assisting the Interfaith Hospitality Network for one week, at least 3 times each year. IHN coordinates housing for homeless families in our area, and works with host Christian churches to provide the space, meals, and fellowship with the families. As we do not have the space to provide sleeping areas for families, we help another church, in our case a Lutheran church.  They have room to accommodate up to three families at a time. When they are hosting families, we provide the meals and fellowship for that week.  Our teens also enjoy participating. This is truly appreciated by the host church and the struggling families we meet. It also increases our capacity to witness our faith.
  • As a service to the community, we sponsor a Blood Drive with the American Red Cross twice each year. People wishing to donate visit our church website to make appointments for the drive, and it’s another opportunity for local people to learn about our presence in the local community.
  • At Thanksgiving, we collect food items for the Emergency Services Food Pantry, and 65 Christmas Stockings stuffed with hats, gloves and a variety of hygiene items for the Teens at Covenant House in Camden, NJ. Covenant House which provides counseling, housing, and support to troubled teens, is the recipient of our choir fundraising event each year. Our Choir partners with a local high school choir for an evening of music and fellowship. An informative speaker from Covenant House, sometimes a recipient of their services, tells his/her story, and we take a collection with the proceeds going to Covenant House.
  • For many years we have adopted a Seminary family for whom we pray and provide Christmas presents, always wholeheartedly received.
  • In-reach/Outreach has occasionally offered a Spaghetti Dinner or a Heart Healthy Dinner.  A recent such dinner offered a choice of broiled salmon, grilled chicken and a vegetarian selection.  At the dinner we also had a presentation by one of our parishioners, a cardiologist, who spoke on heart health.  We invited the Medford community, and engaged in a little fundraising for our church, a project usually left to other areas of the parish.

All parishioners are always welcome to join us as we endeavor to see the needs, take action, giving comfort and hope to the needy, and in doing so, serve the Lord.

Diana Pasca is an active member of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Medford, NJ and a member of the OCA’s Dept of Christian Service and Humanitarian Aid. She is a Program Supervisor in Behavioral Healthcare of Catholic Charities for over 37 years.