Pastor Monica Villarreal
Pastor Monica shares how volunteers are making a positive difference in the lives of Flint residents.
“The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the community come together in support of one another,” said Pastor Monica Villarreal of Salem Lutheran Church in Flint.
She notes increased volunteerism due to active community organizing from not only governmental agencies and departments, but the residents themselves. And it is apparent in Pastor Monica’s stories of neighbors and local businesses that they are all committed to resolving the Flint water crisis.
When asked to define faith in action and how it relates to their work at Salem, Pastor Monica said it is simply “living out their faith” and “rising up to the challenge to meet the needs of their community.” She stresses relationships are key to making this happen. State agencies and local businesses have partnered with community and faith based organizations, even granting paid leave to their employees who volunteer.
“Sending staff is a great way for businesses to get involved,” said Pastor Monica, before sharing the positive impact outside partnerships has had in their relief efforts.
She credits MDHHS’ Office of Interagency Collaboration (OIC) for introducing her to this concept. It was through collaboration with the OIC on veteran issues that she first formed relationships with state departments – which she sees as an invaluable resource in her current work.
Pastor Monica also highlighted relationships Salem has with the non-business community. The church currently participates in the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan’s Flint Nutrition Mobile, which is a mobile pantry sponsored by the State of Michigan that provides food to the community. Over 19 pallets consisting of fresh fruit, vegetables, protein and other foods helpful to mitigating the harmful effects of lead are given to Flint residents. Additionally, Salem participates in the food bank’s water distribution program from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Thursday and Saturday. She said they are able to distribute an entire semi-truck’s worth of water every week.
Relationships have also affected volunteers personally. Pastor Monica’s voice quivered as she recounted the story of a volunteer who rekindled a 30-year friendship with someone standing in line to receive water. It is the human interaction, which Pastor Monica refers to as “exciting,” that is connecting Flint residents in a myriad of ways. As one volunteer puts it, “it allows me to be more in tune with my neighbor.”
Pastor Monica wants people to see Flint as resilient and a caring community, illustrating the transformative power of cooperation and collaboration. She said she is “determined not to waste this crisis. It’s an opportunity for the city to reinvent, rebuild - to have renewal.” Citing Isaiah 58:9-12, she said the faith community is called into action and therefore shares this responsibility.
“We are [as the faith community],” she said, “the repairer of the breach, and the restorer of streets to live in; this is our task.”
Interested in volunteering or partnering in Flint’s relief efforts? Pastor Monica Villarreal suggests:
- Invite businesses to partner with efforts that assist Flint.
- Contact the American Red Cross of East Central Bay-Michigan, which coordinates and places volunteers throughout the city. Phone: (810) 232-1401
- Contact Salem Lutheran Church, which is able to accommodate volunteers beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays. Phone: (810) 235-0863
- Make your volunteer day a family or group event.
- Contribute to the United Way of Genesee County or the Flint Child Health Development Fund to assist in long-term recovery efforts. Please visit their websites for more information on how to contribute.
Photo: Pictured are Salem Lutheran Church volunteers in action distributing water to Flint residents.