Some observers see signs of a new global recession ahead, even as the effects of the Great Recession of 2008 are still felt. But the poverty rate in parts of the District has remained unchanged for decades, and churches and other local groups have long been striving to meet constant local needs.
REDEEM volunteers have been on hand, twice each week for 15 years, helping to meet Ward 7 needs. Some individuals visit REDEEM, at 4408 Sheriff Road NE, due to temporary circumstances. The Community Outreach Center provides food, clothing and, upon request, spiritual assistance to all who are experiencing emergencies, such as loss of employment. Others return regularly, using REDEEM resources to help make ends meet each month.
Members of the First Baptist Church of Deanwood launched REDEEM: Revitalizing, Energizing Deanwood’s Economic Empowerment Mission CDC in 2000. The church was established in 1901, and the current Brent Memorial Chapel, at 1008 45th St. NE, was constructed between 1929 and 1938. It is now in the National Registry of Historic Places, along with the addition completed in 1962.
The original hope was to create an independent-living facility to help neighborhood seniors remain in their community. Since then, the mission has shifted, at least temporarily, to direct service for all ages, through the Community Outreach Center on Sheriff Road. Nearby properties now form Pride’s Joy Garden, which yields hundreds of pounds of produce shared with the community each year.
Gerald W. Hines, chair of REDEEM, has been a member of the First Baptist Church of Deanwood from the age of 12 and says he is “considerably older” than that now. He has been involved with the CDC from the start. Initially, he says, “we were looking for opportunities for adjacent properties, for future growth.” Over the years, a former TV shop and apartments were renovated to create the outreach center, and older structures on acquired property were demolished to create the gardens, which now make up half an acre of urban farmland.
In addition to helping meet food needs, the garden helps in educating neighbors about agriculture. Activities include a Garden to Table program, in partnership with DC Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as collaborations with the farm at Kelly Miller Middle School and other nearby efforts.
While most garden volunteers are church members, help also comes through the DC Jewish Community Center and other organizations around town.
Melvin Thomas greets community members as they arrive and helps them register. The main priority for REDEEM, he says, is serving neighbors, so clients are asked for ID. Residents of the Deanwood area can return for food as well as clothing, once a month. “We do serve people from other areas, in emergencies, for a few months,” Thomas explains. And those without ID are served temporarily as well.
Othia Street, who came to the Community Outreach Center after she retired, has been operating the REDEEM Boutique for several years. The second-floor establishment is arranged like a second-hand shop. Departments include adult clothing, children’s clothing, baby supplies and household items, with some games, toys and books. Donations come mainly from church members, Street explains, so the boutique feels like a congregational effort.
Each client may “shop” for resources once each month. Some seek supplies for themselves, while others are shopping for a family, sometimes for grandchildren. Street says she sees many regulars return each month.
Deaconess Bethena Best, a First Baptist member since 1964, helps clients who express spiritual needs. Prayer and counseling are voluntary, Best says, and many refuse her offer, but others share specific concerns and then join in prayer. Deaconess Best attends on Wednesdays, another deaconess on Saturdays.
Jessie Young loves gardening and is happy to bring her years of experience farming in Arizona to Pride’s Joy. She relishes the chance to share fresh food, including beans and squash, with community members. As part of her volunteer efforts, Young shares cooking tips. For example, Young suggests preparing kale “with water, no fat, but add in some other vegetables.” Hines, however, insists: “I want my bacon grease.”
Just as cooking styles vary among REDEEM volunteers, the organization embodies a variety of approaches to neighborhood need.
Surrounding Needs and Responses
Unemployment in Ward 7 remains at 10%, while poverty ranges from 22% in some neighborhoods of the ward to over 40% in others. Child poverty, according to the most recent statistics (see “Kids Count” data center from DC Action for Children), is 45% in Deanwood and nearby areas and as high as 57% in Eastland Gardens and Kenilworth. Citywide, more than one-quarter of children live in poverty, and only Ward 8 has higher rates than Ward 7.
According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, poverty rates in the District, particularly east of the river, have not improved since the Great Recession of 2008. Dire and long-standing challenges have spurred a number of responses to hunger, food deserts and related issues. Some pursue policy change, budget reallocation and commercial development beyond fast food. REDEEM joins with others in Ward 7 and citywide, combining direct food assistance with urban farming and nutritional and agricultural education.
In addition to sharing Pride’s Joy produce, REDEEM is one of hundreds of sites in the DC area supplied by the Capital Area Food Bank. Boutique items are currently provided through church donations, but additional supplies and financial contributions are welcomed to meet the constant need in Ward 7 and beyond.
See the sidebar for more on REDEEM services and donation requests. Contact the First Baptist Church of Deanwood at http://thefirstbaptistchurchofdeanwood.org/ or call 202-396-0534.
Virginia Avniel Spatz is a long-time contributor to Capital Community News. Contact her through www.vspatz.wordpress.com or www.songeveryday.org.