The purpose of UUCC’s Social Action Ministry is to put our spirituality into practice as a church without walls by offering a life-affirming and inclusive voice to the larger community. We accomplish this through a variety of activities, including partnerships with such organizations as Reestablish Richmond and Richmonders Involved in Strengthening Our Communities.
Current Activities of the UUCC Social Action Ministry
Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities (RISC) – We have three team leaders of RISC at UUCC, along with around 20 committed Justice Team members. RISC is an organization of 23 Richmond-area congregations that use the power of numbers to affect social and economic change. Each year at the Nehemiah Action Assembly over 2,000 individuals meet to hold city officials accountable on such issues as affordable housing, gun violence, and safe homes and schools (environmental issues).
Working to Support Refugee Families
Unitarian Universalist Community Church members and friends began in the fall of 2016 with refugee sponsorship and assistance for two Afghani families, one Syrian family last living in Egypt, and later one family originally from the Congo but last living in a refugee camp in Zambia. Formally we were considered the main sponsor for two of these four families and just had partial responsibilities with the other two. Sponsorship included furnishing homes, teaching the families about how to take care of their homes, driving family members to medical visits, sharing our culture and our language through teaching English vocabulary and grammar, tutoring the school-aged children, and helping the older family members to find employment, to prepare taxes, and to understand budgeting.
As we spent much time helping our two Afghan families, we met other Afghan families in their apartment complex and then neighboring complexes that had particular needs. As we felt we had the resources and time, we helped almost 30 of these adjunct families. Due to the generosity of our church members and friends, we helped these adjunct families with clothes, bicycles, toys, books, baby equipment, kitchen items, and furniture.
Once our refugee friends became more self-sufficient, we had time to provide a few other services as mentioned below. These included at home ESL classes, education sessions concerning Henrico Public Schools, citizenship classes, and provided land next to the sanctuary for a vegetable garden. Several of our refugee men came to assist a dedicated church member who spearheaded the work.
Refugee Work Partnering with Reestablish Richmond
We have 16 volunteers currently working with Afghan refugee families under the supervision of Reestablish Richmond, a prominent local non-governmental relief agency. Our volunteers have completed orientation, training, background checks, and vaccination protocols. Reestablish Richmond offers a variety of volunteer opportunities, and are quite flexible as to the hours one works. Our volunteers are engaged in such activities as driving clients to appointments, tutoring, teaching citizenship classes, and offering driving lessons. The Social Action Ministry received a $2,000 grant request from the Unitarian Universalist Association Social Responsibility Fund in September, along with a possible $5,000 matching grant, to assist with our work with Reestablish Richmond.
In addition, a member of SAM has taken on the task of collecting used notebook computers, reconditioning and updating them, and distributing them to refugee families. SAM members are constantly on the lookout for such computers and possible recipients, and we have furnished several reconditioned computers and iPhones to Reestablish Richmond refugees.
Wellborne Food Pantry – Food collections for Wellborne began shortly after COVID protocols and lockdown began. So many families needed assistance, as jobs were lost and lives upended. At its peak, some of the sites were collecting six or seven bags a week, but it has gradually wound down.
Christmas Tree Project – Our Christmas Tree Project now provides approximately 100 gifts to four refugee families selected by Reestablish Richmond. Church members sign up for gifts requested by the refugee families, wrap them, and the Church delivers them to Reestablish Richmond.
Racial Justice – Our racial justice group within SAM did much of the prep work on paving the way for a favorable congregational vote on the Eight UU Principle. Lending libraries were created, assisted with the Richmond Pledge program, and outreach to Hanover County organizations such as the NAACP was begun.
School Supplies – SAM collected for school supplies for local elementary schools in the Fall, providing over $900 of supplies requested by the Superintendent. This fulfilled a need that the principal had no idea at the time as to how they would find funds for those supplies.
Fourth Sunday Charity Program – SAM continued its tradition of selecting a local charity to receive our Fourth Sunday plate collection each month. We have a very generous congregation, with the average collection each month approaching $900 – $1,000.
SAM Projects Carried Out in Previous Years:
ABCD Initiative – Several SAM members took an Asset Based Community Development Course, and tried an initial implementation at a local housing complex (the Cloisters) with the highest percentage of students qualifying for free lunches.
Support of the Richmond Pledge – UUCC’s participation in the Richmond Pledge against racism resides in SAM, and UUCC has hosted training sessions.
Legislative Letter Writing – Back in the days when hand-written letters could influence legislation, SAM often set up letter-writing desks during the legislative session. One campaign seems to have had an effect, according to insiders; SAM generated over 150 letters in opposition to a bill that would prevent gay high school students from forming interest groups.
Panera Bread Collection – For a period of time, SAM members would pick up the unsold bread several times a week from the Panera’s on Broad Street and deliver to local shelters. This averaged 40 pounds a night, with a record of 76 pounds.
Equal Rights Amendment Advocacy – SAM provided supplemental support for passage of the ERA in Virginia by publicizing events and participating in card writing events.Gun Violence License Plate – We assisted the state organization in securing enough signatures pledging to buy such a license plate if made available by the state. We were singled out for praise by advocates, as we secured 32 signatures to take the campaign over the top.