Mayor honors ‘light keepers’ who served Salisbury community throughout pandemic

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — During the 17th annual Mayor’s Spirit Luncheon Monday, Mayor Karen Alexander honored local organizations and individuals who continued to serve Salisbury despite the pandemic.

This year’s luncheon focused on Salisbury’s “luminaries” — light keepers who inspire and influence others in their service to the community. With the help of city staff and the Human Relations Council, representatives from selected organizations detailed how they used federal funds to creatively and thoughtfully continue their services. The luminaries for this year include Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, ApSeed, Power Cross Ministries, Hood Theological Seminary, Meals on Wheels and La Alcancia.

“Since we weren’t able to be together last year as we experienced both personal and community hardships, sacrifice and loss, I wanted this year’s spirit luncheon to acknowledge the loss of lives, the economic devastation and pain,” Alexander said. “But also, to celebrate the community luminaries who stepped into the gap and protected us through their service and provided for the most vulnerable in the community.” 

The luncheon began with prayers for the community. Brother Bushi Damashii led a Buddhist prayer calling for fears to be lifted, the community’s most vulnerable to be guarded by beneficial celestials and human beings and for all to think of befriending one another.

“May all beings everywhere plagued with sufferings of the body and the mind quickly be freed from their illnesses,” Damashii said. “I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. May wisdom flow from the highest source. I salute the source in you. Let us work together for unity and love as well as common good.”

Pastor Carol Hallman of First United Church of Christ Salisbury honored various members of the community for their dedication to continue serving during the pandemic, including those cleaning hospital rooms and health care workers, teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers and religious leaders.

“We had hoped by now that things would be better, and in some ways, oh God, they are,” Hallman prayed. “We give thanks with the miracle that comes with vaccinations. We give thanks for the knowledge, the ability to use masks and social distancing as ways to help ourselves keep safe and keep others that we love safe as well … We ask, gracious God, for blessings on our community leaders, upon our religious leaders and upon our community. We pray for your love to flow down on us all. That you help us to, as a community, come together.”

With a greeting of “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “peace be unto you” in Arabic, Jacqueline Springs recited Muhammad’s Prayer of Light.

O God,
Give me light in my heart
And light in my tongue
And light in my hearing
And light in my sight
And light in my feeling
And light in all body
And light before me
And light behind me.

Lastly, Sam Lebowitz sang “Mi Shebeirach,” a Jewish prayer of healing, along with a prayer traditionally given during times of transitions and new seasons.

May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing,
And let us say, amen

Shawn Edman, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, spoke about the nonprofit’s work throughout the pandemic to continue providing various services for children and families exposed or involved in abuse, primarily via the Terrie Hess House Child Advocacy Center. Edman said obtaining personal protective equipment was critical because part of the organization’s services include comprehensive medical exams for children.

Edman said CARES Act funding also allowed the organization to hire professional cleaning services and continue providing services virtually.

Alexander read a statement on behalf of ApSeed, which is a program that began in Salisbury in 2016 and distributes tablets with educational resources to children up to the age of 4 to improve reading proficiency and kindergarten preparedness. Alexander said receiving feedback from parents and caregivers has been the biggest challenge for ApSeed during the pandemic. With federal COVID-19 funds, the program was able to help an additional 33 children.

Natalie Storment of Power Cross Ministries, a nonprofit that works to positively influence young men, said the organization never shut down during the pandemic and offered virtual school assistance for its children. She added that Power Cross Ministries served 50,000 free meals throughout 2020.

John C. Everett of Hood Theological Seminary said federal funds assisted students with tuition, as many were studying more than one vocation, and allowed the seminary to provide additional resources for students, staff and faculty. Everrett said the mission of the seminary is to “educate women and men for the bold and creative leadership for a diverse world for the Christian church.”

Meals on Wheels Board President Tom Robinson said early in the pandemic, they knew a lot of those served by Meals on Wheels were homebound seniors. So instead of delivering fresh meals every day, they delivered frozen meals. CARES Act funding, he said, allowed Meals on Wheels to work in conjunction with Rowan Helping Ministries.

Cindy Fink, executive director of Meals on Wheels, said many of the individuals served were at high risk of further complications from COVID-19, not familiar with ordering groceries online and/or facing transportation and financial barriers. So, Meals on Wheels delivered groceries to them. Fink said this has been added to its list of ongoing services.

Meals on Wheels estimates delivering more than 41,000 meals to nearly 280 individuals last year.

Alexander honored the work done by La Alcancia, a Mexican grocery store on South Main Street. Some of its services included vaccination clinics and providing fresh fruit and vegetables to those in need. Latin Mix, owned by Lilliana Spears, also hosted a vaccination clinic.

Debra Ellison, chair of the Human Relations Council, told attendees Monday that many in the community are “willing to grab hands with you” and help in any way they can.

“Salisbury and Rowan County are filled with light keepers,” Alexander said. “And although we cannot call everyone by name, today we want to extend a hearty thank you to everyone, including the amazing health care professionals; the first responders; the firefighters; law enforcement officers; the wonderful behind-the-scenes individuals who clean and sanitize buildings and public places; the staff of the Rowan County Health Department for all of their guidance and services they’ve provided our community; the local churches who opened their hearts and used their hands to uplift to serve and to touch; teachers and bus drivers and school officials who helped the learning continue and made sure that our children were fed; and, of course, the grocery stores, the restaurant employees and local businesses, and I could go on and on.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.