“I know my church and I know my people,” explains The Rev. Canon Juan A. Quevedo-Bosch, known to the parishioners of The Church of the Redeemer in Astoria simply as “Father Juan.”
Fr. Juan has been the pastor of Redeemer for nearly 21 years and he recognizes every person that walks into the church cafeteria during their weekly lunch program - which has been converted into a lunch-to-go program during the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic community meals were the lifeblood of the parish. They came together to celebrate at the “Restaurant of the Lord” - an opportunity to eat, embrace, socialize, and sometimes even dance together.
The multi-cultural, multi-lingual parish was forced to adapt their routines as the pandemic tore through New York. “It’s against my personality, upbringing, and ministry to not be with the people - for us to not be together,” laments Fr. Juan.
A text message chain was quickly developed so that urgent information could ripple through the congregants. It was a way to keep people in touch with the many resources that parish would continue to provide, albeit in an adapted fashion.
Three months into the pandemic, Fr. Juan was making his regular calls to congregants when he learned that an elderly parishioner had not been able to leave her apartment for nearly three months, even to buy herself food. She had already consumed all the non-perishables in her home and was left with a diminishing bag of dried rice.
Fr. Juan clarifies that, “Some parishioners are not transparent about what they need. They could be embarrassed to ask for help. It is ingrained in us that nothing comes for free.”
Provided with a grant from Episcopal Ministries of Long Island’s COVID-19 Frontline Funds, Fr. Juan began purchasing and distributing groceries to congregants.
“Fr. Juan is a good man - he knows what we need and he takes care of us,” remarked Christina, one of the cooks for the lunch program. Christina also turned to Fr. Juan several months ago when her family, which worked predominantly in the service industry, began losing income rapidly. Christina and her family are immigrants from Mexico and several members of the family live on multiple floors of the same apartment building. When she could not continue to clean homes and her husband could no longer serve at restaurants, she recalls that she reached out to Fr. Juan for “a little help, but he was generous.”
To keep himself safe as more and more parishioners needed groceries, Fr. Juan began to use Instacart and delivered chicken, beef, dried beans and rice at wholesale prices to families including Christina’s.
As the pandemic pressed on, Fr. Juan began to secure more resources and adapt parish activities. Over 10,000 masks were donated and distributed. Redeemer held a vaccination drive and had over 70 people fully vaccinated. The parish continued to live-stream their bilingual mass on Facebook and Instagram live and initiated socially distant masses in the parish courtyard. Fr. Juan utilized the text message chain to send voice memos to those in need and call parishioners on their birthdays.
“My focus group is everybody breathing,” laughs Fr. Juan, explaining the litany of resources Redeemer offers, including immigration counseling, a 12-step program, and professional mental health services.
This initiative was funded in part by Episcopal Ministries of Long Island’s COVID-19 Frontline Funds. Episocopal Ministries is deeply grateful to Fr. Juan, Afalda, and Christina for this interview and to all the parishioners at Redeemer for their ministry that truly brings the enduring love of Christ to our neighbors. You can learn more about how Episcopal Ministries is resourcing and amplifying ministry across Long Island on our website and make a gift to support this work.