More than 4,000 New Yorkers will be warmer this winter because they’ll be wearing coats provided by North Carolina Baptists through the annual Coats for the City project.
Hundreds of N.C. churches collected coats throughout 2014, which were gathered in 12 associational offices and trucked to Ebenezer Mission Church in Bayside, Queens, on Dec. 11, for pickup by 14 New York area Baptist churches that day.
A team of volunteers from Fusion Church in Spring Lake, N.C., led by Pastor Barry Lawrence and his wife, Lynette, helped sort the voluminous piles of coats packed in black plastic bags. Lawrence coordinated Coats for the City across North Carolina this year.
The New York churches handed out the coats on Dec. 13, with help from more than 100 N.C. Baptist volunteers. Many who received a coat were clearly not dressed warmly enough for the day, when temperatures hovered in the 30s, chilled even more by a steady breeze.
N.C. volunteers joined with N.Y. Baptists to hand out the coats along with hot coffee, hot chocolate, hot tea, Bibles, tracts and Jesus videos.
Most of the 14 New York churches are new church plants still meeting in rented facilities. Planters/pastors say distributing coats is a great way to both meet physical needs and build relationships.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
In Long Island City, Queens, Angie Turnmire, left, helps a woman find a coat. Turnmire is a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Hudson. She was one of more than 100 North Carolina volunteers who went in December to New York to help with Coats for the City, a partnership between Metropolitan New York Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of N.C.
Coats for the City is a partnership between the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA) and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), along with a number of N.C. Baptist associations. It started three years ago as a local church project in Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs.
In the richly multicultural neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, church planter Boto Joseph, local church members and volunteers set up tables loaded with coats and welcomed long lines of local residents – one line for men and one for women and children. “It’s Christmas, and we’re celebrating the birth of Christ by giving out free coats,” he said over a loudspeaker.
“This looks great,” said a well-bundled Robert Steele, executive pastor of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, who brought five volunteers to N.Y. “We’re giving coats to Hindus and Muslims, people literally from all over the world. We’re giving them coats and hot tea and more importantly, they’re being shown the love of Christ in a demonstrable way. So it’s exciting to see the smiles on faces of the people. They may not know the words we’re saying, but they see we’re doing something to help them.”
Last year’s coats distribution won praise from local Hindu and Muslim shopkeepers, who were impressed that Christians would work so hard to help local residents in need.
Green Street is one of five Triad-area churches setting up a partnership to expand New York outreach. This was the first coats project for Green Street, but First Baptist Church in Summerfield, one of the partners, sent teams to serve in previous years.
Wilma Morgan, a First Baptist member, helped manage the line of women waiting for coats. She led the church’s collection, labeling and packing of hundreds of coats bound for New York.
Turbaned Asian men took cups of hot chai, or spiced tea, from volunteers, while some volunteers stopped at times to pray with people waiting for coats. Volunteers helped mothers look through the coats to find the right fit for their children.
“Look,” said one Asian man holding up a coat, “it’s brand new. Still has the label on it.”
Long Island City
Long Island City is a section of Queens across the East River from Manhattan, where new high-rise apartments and other developments have rejuvenated a former docks area. New-City Church, a two-year-old church plant, meets in one of those high-rises.
But a few blocks away are two of the nation’s largest public housing areas that are home for some of the area’s poorest people. That was where New-City set up their coats distribution, partnering with Hour Children, an organization ministering to women released from prison.
New-City worker Christy Dyer said they gave out 400 coats in 90 minutes.
“One of our core values is to be an expression of grace to our community,” said Patrick Thompson, New-City pastor/planter. “The ability to come into a high-need area and provide a resource like a warm coat and a cup of coffee helps us be that grace to this neighborhood.”
Thompson said his church members contributed 75 coats for the day, “but there’s no way we could collect more than 400 coats to hand out. To have this kind of resource and to have the volunteers come alongside, we couldn’t do this without help from North Carolina Baptists.”
Dale Fisher, director of missions for Caldwell Baptist Association, made up of 74 churches in and around Lenoir, joined other volunteers in helping people find coats. Other Tar Heel volunteers included Nathaniel Poole, Anna Lee, David Lee and Abby Lee of Bat Cave Baptist Church in Bat Cave; and Angie Turnmire and Pearl Setzer of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Hudson.
Nueva Vida, Woodside, Queens
Nueva Vida Baptist Church is a Hispanic church meeting in a storefront building in Woodside, Queens. Members turned the entire church into a coats distribution center and handed out more than 300 coats in two hours. At least 25 children received a coat.
Mostly Hispanic and Asian people came seeking a coat. Pastor Walter Valencia prayed with some, including a man who suffered from seizures because of epilepsy. It was the first time the man had ever been inside a church. Walter’s wife, Veronica, talked to people and helped them find coats, joined by volunteers from Fusion Church.
“I am very thankful to God for North Carolina Baptists and all the coats that have come our way,” she said. “We are sharing the Word of God and food along with the coats. God bless you guys for that.”
Gambian Outreach, the Bronx
Brian Stephens, leader of Gambian Outreach, set up tables in Crotona Park in the Bronx, another of New York’s boroughs, and handed out hundreds of coats.
One church planter working with Muslims and Hindus said they gave out almost 300 coats in an hour and could have used three times that number. He said church members prayed with numerous people, and they plan to follow up with home visits to several Muslim families they met.
As church planters picked up their allotment of coats Dec. 11, Barry Lawrence encouraged them to tell the Fusion volunteers about their ministries. Then they prayed for them.
Nathan Creitz, pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, Queens, said his church had only launched in September 2013, ahead of the coats distribution in December. Was it effective to distribute the coats?
“Absolutely,” Creitz said. “It was a big event. We gave out 500 coats,” adding that some had visited the church because of the coats; 15 months after launch, City Life Church now has about 30 members.
“The coats drive is a big help for us in building good will in the community,” said Joshua Collins, who works with Bengali immigrants in Jamaica, Queens and the Bronx.
Collins explained that some immigrants arrive from hot climates where 50 degrees may be the coolest weather they ever see. “A New York winter is a lot different for them, and the coats are helpful,” he said.
Pastor Todd Brandt said, “We did the coats distribution last year and had a great time with it.” They also gave out coffee and donuts and had yard sales. He said 80,000 people live within a mile of his Christian Bible Church in Yonkers, and half-a-million people within five miles.
“These are people in desperate need of the gospel,” Brandt said, adding that he is really excited about what God is doing with the church.
Some 150 Coats for the City volunteers and local Baptists gathered the evening of Dec. 12, for a training session on coats distribution. Brad Wall, leader of South Asian Outreach in Queens and Brooklyn, reminded the volunteers they were there not just to talk about Jesus, but also to be Him as they loved on the people in need. “Guess what! It’s OK to smile in New York,” he told them.
Wall and Boto Joseph started the coats project.
Chuck Register expressed appreciation to all who worked on the project and said he hopes Coats for the City can be expanded to more New York churches in 2015. He was on hand Dec. 11 when the coats arrived at Ebenezer Mission Church and spent the evening moving bags of coats with other volunteers. Register, an executive leader with the BSC, directs church planting and missions partnerships.
“This was a huge project that involved hundreds of churches and many Baptists in North Carolina and New York,” said Kelli Creswell, MNYBA’s church planting administrator who coordinated the coats project in N.Y. “But suddenly all of it seems a small investment when you see a man wearing a light jacket just radiate joy when he pulls on a heavy, warm coat in the cold.
“And when you see a non-believer willing to have a Christian pray for him or hear for the first time the amazing news that God loves him, again, the effort seems small for such a wonderful result. If you gave a coat or sent volunteers or had anything at all to do with Coats for the City, I assure you it was a very good investment in God’s Kingdom,” said Creswell, a former BSC employee.
She encouraged North Carolina Baptists to begin making plans for next year’s project. Stores will soon put winter coats on sale, Creswell said. “Plan now to buy coats for Coats for the City 2015.”