Summit faith groups work to help community with loneliness, food, financial aid
Hospital chaplains phone COVID patients, benevolent funds help families with mortgages
DILLON — In her work as congregation president for Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon and as a chaplain for St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, Karen Johns has found caring for people’s loneliness during the coronavirus shutdown has been what she can most help with.
Amid the stay at home order, she visits the church a couple of times a week to let a half-dozen homeless people use the showers in the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Johns says that typically two ladies show up early, able to use the two showers first. She then disinfects the facilities and the men get their turn. Afterward, they are served a hot lunch. It’s one of many ways that Johns and the church are letting community members know they are still there to serve them.
“Most of them are living very isolated lives,” Johns said, “so it’s nice for them to be able to sit and talk, see friendly faces.”
Over at the hospital, Johns will be on for the next nine days as St. Anthony Summit’s chaplain. Though she said her duties at the hospital have been slow, as patient volume has been quiet without the typical number of tourist skiers in town, chaplains have been there for basic ministry and emotional support for patients.
Since they’re not allowed into the rooms of COVID-19 patients, the chaplains make phone calls to reach those who are sick, isolated in their rooms to mitigate the spread of the virus. She said several of the hospital COVID patients she’s chatted with are exhausted from pneumonia. As such, conversations are relatively short, due to their lack of energy. When they touch base, she asks them how they are doing and offers a prayer if they’d like.
“If they were to be having life-threatening symptoms we would send them down to Denver, so the patient body we have are less sick ones. And for them, basically, it’s loneliness,” Johns said. “They are just lonely and would like to see their family members. Because the only contact they have physically is with their doctor and their nurse, and that’s limited. They look for human touch, for conversation, for friendship. We all need that. That’s the hardest part.”
Some locals need more from the church community than just contact and communication. Over at Dillon Community Church church elders and staff, such as Pastor Jim Howard, have made changes to how they reach the community. Pastor Howard has taken his usual 20 hours of coffee-shop chats virtual in recent weeks, but beyond that, the church has gone as far as using the church’s benevolence fund to help finance several families mortgage payments. They have also reached out to local businesses to see if people, including non-church goers, need help to stay above water financially.
“Our goal is to keep families stable,” Howard said.
At the church’s food pantry, Howard said demand in recent weeks has ranged from twice-as-much as normal to five times higher. The lines of cars three times a week in the parking lot to pick up a box of food from gloved and masked church staff has not maxed out supply, though Howard said it’s come very close.
At Tuesday night’s free community dinner at the Silverthorne Elks Lodge, Johns said they ran out of food with 20 minutes remaining in the hour. The line of people standing six feet apart wrapped around a block-and-a-half, as locals waited for their packaged dinner to come to the door. Johns said work has increased for her and other volunteers — due to legitimate concerns regarding the spread of the virus, the number of volunteers in the kitchen has decreased from eight to three.
“We just weren’t ready for that large of a group to show up,” she said.
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