Outreach and Mission

May 13, 2021

At the same time the pandemic raged across Cuba, food became scarce, and tourism collapsed, the Cuban government implemented a currency conversion at the beginning of 2021. This conversion tripled the minimum salary, as the cost of living continued to rise even more. The government compensates for that shortfall for government employees. Sadly, the 13% of Cubans who work in private enterprises, including pastors and seminary faculty, receive no national assistance, so the churches and seminary have to make up that gap on their own. So, for instance, the minimum salary prior to the conversion was approximately $30 a month and today it is approximately $87 a month. Our partners at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas are having great difficulty paying the faculty with this large increase in salary so to show our solidarity we, FPC, have already sent them our annual support of $12,000. A raise in salary sounds good, but because of the conversion and the pandemic, the costs of supplies have skyrocketed so the faculty and students are having trouble making ends meet. Another way we at FPC have been able to support them has been to recharge their cellphones. Each month members of the Cuba Ministry team sign on to a website and charge the faculty’s cellphones with our personal credit cards.  This means that the monthly phone charge of $25 does not have to be covered by the minister or seminary staff. 

September 17, 2019

Last fall, local counselor and Charlotte Observer contributor Justin Perry came to our church to speak on educational equality in Charlotte as part of our Color and Character book study.  After his presentation, I asked him what he thought was the most important thing we could do to support Westerly Hills Academy. He said, “Watch Resilience.”

We can do what Justin Perry suggested on Sunday, September 22, beginning at 5 p.m. in Wood Fellowship Hall, when we’ll have a free viewing of Resilience. This documentary is about how trauma impacts both our mental and physical health, and how we gain the resilience needed to recover from the trauma.

What, exactly, is trauma? In a brochure from Presbyterian Psychological Services, various experiences that qualify as “trauma” include:

  • Abuse/neglect
  • Incarceration
  • Mental illness or substance abuse in the family
  • Divorce
  • Witnessing domestic violence or a violent crime

My heart sank when I read this list. Here is what those experiences look like in the lives of people I’ve encountered recently through my work here at First Presbyterian:

  • A church member told me that dad was being released from prison soon, and asked for prayers, as they were nervous about the transition.
  • A BELL scholar whispered to me that her family was moving because there were “too many bullets” in their neighborhood.
  • Another BELL scholar was late because a man showed up at their house the night before with a gun.
  • A nine-year-old I’ve tutored was dropped off at his dad’s house by his mother, who said, “I’m done with him” and never returned.
  • Many young scholars and students I’ve tutored that have brothers and sisters who have died.

There are experiences on this list that many of us will never have to deal with. But there are plenty that we do experience, despite our “privileged” status:  substance abuse, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, divorce. When it comes to traumatic experiences, Father Gregory Boyle’s words come to mind: “There is no us and them.  There is only us.”

Marc Dickmann, who is currently the Director of Education for Freedom Communities and has been a longtime west Charlotte advocate, told me recently that  he thought the biggest need in west Charlotte was “trauma support.”

Watching Resilience together on Sunday evening is a great place to begin understanding this piece of the equation called trauma and how we can care for one another, for our community and ourselves.

– Heather Herring, Child & Family Partnership Coordinator

Details: Sign up here for the free documentary, accompanied by a light meal, on Sunday, September 22, 5 p.m. The movie is suitable for middle school youth through adults. An elementary program, Identifying Emotions, will be offered concurrently. Preschool care will be provided at no cost but registration is required. We will also have the opportunity following the film to be part of small group conversations led by experts in outreach and advocacy, understanding stress, mindfulness and meditation and movement as a stress buster.


August 7, 2019

Once a month, member Sue Loeser spends an afternoon volunteering in First Presbyterian Church’s Loaves and Fishes pantry. Here is one of her experiences from last spring.

Empathy was on my mind in April when I helped Jane (not her real name) as she shopped for her family of six. Jane was my dream client because she liked to cook and was searching for healthy options. We were offering several fresh vegetables that day, and Jane used her points to “buy” everything fresh.

Jane was especially excited about an extra-large bag of salad greens she chose, exclaiming, “My daughters love salad…they will be thrilled!”

Just then, another client entered the vegetable aisle, engaged in a discussion with a volunteer about what that client might like. He spied Jane’s bag of salad greens, pointed to it and said, “I’d like one of those!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told this second client. “We had just two bags of salad greens and that’s the last one.”

That would have been the end of it, except beside me Jane smiled and said to the young man, “If you give me a bag, I’ll give you half!”


If you give me a bag, I’ll give you half.  You have no idea how often I’ve wondered if I would share my family’s desperately-needed food—food I couldn’t replace—with another person in need.   I can’t say for sure I would.

The people who come to a pantry are screened by the Loaves and Fishes organization. Their need is documented, their visits to a pantry are limited, and they have a referral for our FPC pantry that specific day. No walk-ins are allowed.  The system is well-organized. As a volunteer, I help clients select items from different food groups, using their family size to determine how many points (i.e. currency) they have in each food group.

As we shop together, I talk to my clients about food, and sometimes they move on to stories about their life and family.  What I hear is often heartbreaking.  While we bag their selections, it’s not uncommon for a client to weep with relief and gratitude on seeing all they have to take home to their family.

Yet, in spite of their need, a client like Jane is not rare. I often hear clients say, “I have enough (vegetables, fruit, etc.) so I won’t take any more.”  It would be easy to assume they refuse the items because they can’t carry more cans on the bus, or they don’t have storage at home.  But almost always the client adds, “Leave it for the next person.”

I started volunteering at Loaves and Fishes because I wanted another service opportunity, and I thought the distribution team’s camaraderie would be fun. (And it is!) What I didn’t expect was an education in sacrificial generosity.

—Sue Loeser