Shared from the 12/31/2017 Faith eEdition


1 tragedy, a million acts of kindness unite community

Five-year-old Ryland Ward has become somewhat of a celebrity this holiday season on social media. As the sole remaining victim of the Sutherland Springs shooting incident to remain hospitalized six weeks after the horrific attack, his family’s request for Christmas cards for the young man went viral with news outlets from Arizona to New York spreading the message. However, as the holiday cards begin to pour in from around the globe, one family need persists, and it’s one that any family that has ever spent time in a hospital with a loved-one can relate to. Who will feed them?

Given that the continuous presence of close family members is critical to the well-being of the patient, how do those family members maintain their own strength and resiliency throughout the ordeal? This is where the City of San Antonio’s relatively new Faith-Based Initiative stepped in to help.

As the weeks passed and some victims were discharged, it was apparent that others would remain hospitalized for an extended time and that family members staying with them around the clock would need some community support. In late November, volunteer organizer Julie Dahlberg, who lives in Sutherland Springs and knows one of the affected families, offered to take over the meal coordination from the family. She set up an account on MealTrain and reached out to First Baptist Church and Grace Point Church, which both meet near the hospital, and they began to spread the word.

One group that responded early on was the San Antonio, Texas West Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

“I broadcasted the request for volunteers through Facebook by sharing the announcement to the pages of all 10 wards (or congregations) that make up our stake,” said Jessica Sorensen, who presides over the group’s Relief Society, a women’s organization dedicated to providing welfare assistance. “Within one hour, half of our meal assignments were taken by volunteers. By breakfast the next morning, all of our slots had been filled and the message had reached over 700 people.”

Megan Ruelwicz, one of the volunteers, shared how she involved her family. “I felt bad that I wasn’t able to help with the Hurricane Harvey clean-up because I have a 2-year-old. When I saw the sign-up on MealTrain to bring food to the families from Sutherland Springs … I knew that was something I could do and involve my daughter.”

Just before Christmas, more than 100 families had participated in the MealTrain response effort from many congregations of different denominations and from the community at large; a true community-based effort.

“I’m just so grateful that in a small way I can show those families that others are aware of them and praying for them,” Ruelwicz said. “So many times I want to help but don’t know where to even begin — so to have this put out there through social media was perfect!”

Little Ryland is a celebrity, of course. There will always be others in the community with needs that go unnoticed and countless volunteers who perform unheralded acts of service on a daily basis.

There are still ways for you to get involved. Follow @CompassionNET1 on Twitter to be aware of the City’s F-BI and related efforts. Sign up for the F-BI newsletter at Text “compassion” to 55000 to receive urgent response alerts from F-BI and other local non-profits.

Sign up on to find local volunteer opportunities.

Peter Hightower is a husband and father of four, a full-time Border Patrol agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and a volunteer with youth programs at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

See this article in the e-Edition Here
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