Published on April 2, 2020 by Samuel Hagos  
Beeson students serving
David Austin (left), Lawayne Custard (center), Lauren Byars (right)

The spread of COVID-19 throughout the nation has prompted the closure of schools and community gatherings, and left many without work. Birmingham is no exception. 

Local city officials in Midfield, a suburb of Birmingham, needed help in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in the community, so they contacted David Austin Sr., Beeson Divinity School M.Div. student and pastor of Unified Fellowship Community Baptist Church (UFCBC) in Midfield. Austin offered his church facilities to serve as a place where those needs could be met.

“We just wanted to do our part to be a local place where people, who are hungry and in need of food and resources, know they can come,” he said.

Austin especially was concerned that grade-school children, whose families rely on free and reduced-price school lunches, were going without a meal throughout the week since schools have closed. From 12-1 p.m., Monday through Friday, the church provides meals to elementary students; and after 1 p.m., they extend meals to others in the community, feeding more than 200 families a day.

Lawayne Custard, who also is an M.Div. student at Beeson and local pastor, has been volunteering alongside Austin.

“I know how it feels to be poor,” Custard said. “In some cases, the free and reduced-price school lunch programs help make ends meet for parents in the neighborhood. It is an honor for me now to be able to volunteer to help feed kids who are out of school due to the coronavirus.” 

Volunteers also serve by driving around the community and providing senior citizens and those who are unable to leave their homes with food, water, imperishable goods and cleaning supplies.

Amid such fear, uncertainty and confusion, Austin wants to “show up in the form of grace and kindness, by aiding people at a time where they are most vulnerable. This is the time that the church can be the church and actually demonstrate the love of Christ.”

Lauren Byars, a recent Beeson Divinity graduate, is also serving alongside Austin and Custard.

“Watching the work in the classroom spill over into the communities just makes me feel good that God has allowed me to be connected with people who care,” Custard said. “Watching fellow Beeson students interact with the kids of the community as we help make their day a little brighter is indicative of what I have experienced as a student at Beeson Divinity School.”

Listen to Austin's interview with WBRC's Good Day Alabama.