About nine years ago, the leadership at Northside Baptist Church in East Minnehaha took a critical look in the mirror.
The leaders noticed that the church was focused on itself, its congregation — and not the community.
“That’s not what Christ teaches us to be,” said John Martin, the church’s outreach and mobilization director
“We asked ourselves, ‘if the church went away today, would anybody miss us?’ ” he added. “We didn’t like the answer.”
So, they made it a point to change the direction the church and its congregation were headed.
Northside Baptist leaders started by reaching out to nearby Truman Elementary School. Church members volunteered for the lunch buddy program with students. They offered to tutor kids. They got involved with the parent-teacher association. And they helped to provide food at school functions.
But again, the church leaders realized they could be doing more, particularly for the teachers.
“We asked if the teachers liked coffee,” Martin said.
After receiving an enthusiastic “yes,” church volunteers began visiting the school once a month and providing free mocha, latte and Americano drinks to the teachers and staff.
In the years since, Northside Baptist has expanded its efforts to include five schools: Truman, Walnut Grove, Minnehaha and Ogden elementary schools and Gaiser Middle School.
And each month, volunteers visit each of the schools with the church’s espresso machine and assortment of flavored syrups to treat the adults in the building to a cup of coffee.
“The bottom line is Jesus loves us. He’s shown that and proven that,” Martin said. “And he asks us to do the same, so that’s how we’re showing our love.”
“We just wanted to love on the teachers a little bit,” he added.
‘Such a blessing’
During the November visit to Gaiser Middle School, a couple of church volunteers set up their espresso station in the corner of the school’s media center.
The sound of the machine steaming milk filled the center. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted into the hallway. Teachers chatted with one another as they waited for their coffee, smiling and thanking the volunteers when their names were called.
“This is such a blessing to the staff — to know someone is coming in to give you a treat,” said teacher Kathy Hardy. “That lets teachers know the community is behind them.”
The church volunteers say they hope the gesture can be a bright spot for teachers, Martin said.
“We believe in the trickle down, too,” he said. “If the teachers start out their day good, then kids will have a good day.”
Volunteers at Northside Baptist approached Gaiser officials a couple of years ago because the elementary schools the church partners with feed into the middle school.
“We’re trying to follow the kids and the families,” Martin said.
Unlike many schools, Gaiser does not have a family-community resource center, said Sheri Backous, Gaiser’s associate principal. A handful of school staff decided to get active anyway.
“We have a large population in need,” Backous said.
About 65 percent of the school’s population is below the federal poverty line, she said.
Gaiser connected with other church partners at a faith-based coffee gathering — a regular meeting among members of various churches, community organizations and various other entities — a few years ago.
The church partners — which include Northside Baptist, Messiah Lutheran Church, Real Life Church and Salmon Creek United Methodist Church — and Share have helped meet some of the needs of Gaiser’s students, Backous said. The church partners have donated school supplies, toiletries, food and gift cards, she said.
But while much of the work with the churches had been behind the scenes, the Northside Baptist coffee cart showed the teachers and staff that volunteers were supporting them, too, said Kellie Budnick, a counselor at Gaiser.
“The coffee really connected the teachers,” she said. “It’s really shown the teachers our community partners.”
And for the Northside Baptist leaders and congregation, the involvement with the schools has shifted the focus to where it should be, Martin said.
“We want to make our community a better place for everyone,” he said.