Adults eating lunch with children at Davenport’s Jefferson-Edison Elementary School.
A free trash pickup day to help people clean their homes and properties.
One hundred backpacks, each filled with $50 worth of food that intermediate school students can take home the last weekend of the month, when money gets tight, making sure they have something to eat.
These are three community outreach programs operated by a nonprofit group called PUNCH — People Uniting Neighbors and Churches — comprised of seven historic churches in Davenport’s Hilltop area, south of Locust Street.
The neighborhoods around these churches have changed dramatically since the congregations formed in the 1800s; nowadays, most neighbors are renters, they don’t put down roots and they don’t attend services, said the Rev. Craig Anglin, pastor of First Baptist Church. But the churches have stayed — even after their members moved — as physical anchors, and they perform significant outreach.
“We are the abiding institutions of this neighborhood,” Anglin said. “You ask what we’re doing for the community and the main thing is we’re still here. Banks have moved out, businesses have moved out. There’s really no telling what this neighborhood would look like if we had moved out, too.”
Each church has its own story in terms of its congregation's history and the building's architectural features.
Those aspects will be showcased for the public 1-5 p.m. Sunday, May 19, when six of the churches open their doors for tours in an event sponsored by P.U.N.C.H. and the Hilltop Campus Village. If you’ve ever wanted to see what these buildings look like inside — their stained-glass windows, unique architecture and artifacts — this is your chance.
Built between 1867 and 1964, most of the structures were designed by master architects from Davenport, Chicago and New York, and five are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to simply staying put, as Anglin points out, these congregations undertake projects both individually and working together through P.U.N.C.H. that, as the name implies, give these institutions some punch or weight.
The organization formed in 2004 when church leaders, concerned about an increase in neighborhood crime and students dropping out of school, decided to see what they could do to improve things, said the Rev. Ralph Kelly, the P.U.N.C.H. president and community minister at First Baptist. Volunteers walked door-to-do to talk to residents about their needs, and the group brought in a strategist.
The result is an organization that, in 2012, spent about $10,000 on programs, money raised through grants and donations from member churches. That does not include the significant amount of goods and time that are donated.
In addition to the lunch buddies, backpack and trash programs, the group sponsors winterization programs for homes, a Thanksgiving Day community dinner and a free Kicks for Kids martial arts program every Wednesday evening at the Friendly House as a way of keeping young people engaged in worthwhile activities.
There's also a "trunk or treat" Halloween event in the parking lots of all the churches during which kids can pick treats from people's car trunks in safety, and there's an Easter egg hunt in the spring at Cork Hill Park. Sponsoring an event like that might seem simple, but there are myriad things to arrange for: candy, yes, but also porta-potties, trash pickup, people for security in case of troublemakers, games, a sound system, prizes, the designation of different egg-hunting areas for children of various age levels and insurance coverage.
A group such as P.U.N.C.H. in which churches of different denominations work together is rare for several reasons, Anglin said. “It’s not unusual to see a group like this start, but it’s unusual to see it continue. Many times, because nobody gets individual credit, the effort falls by the wayside,” he said.
Individual pastors have to buy into the idea; if a pastor decides it’s a priority, then it’s a go. If not, then no, Anglin said. Organizations also collapse quickly if they become more about meetings than ministry, he added.
While there are a great many needs in the Hilltop area, the ones that get addressed are those that congregations are willing to take on, based on resources of volunteer time, money and space, Anglin said. The group tries to have a major event in each of the four seasons, and the congregations divvy up ownership so no one of them is doing a lot more than the others.
The group also has declined to take on political issues because that could pull the organization apart, he said.
One issue the group talked about a lot in the beginning and that remains a frustration is housing in the neighborhood — “how to get families looking and attracted to this 100-year-old stuff,” he said. There are government programs that fix up houses here and there, but revitalization needs to be a whole-block approach, he added. The group recognizes that the issue goes beyond its scope, yet it would support ideas moving things in that direction.
“But that’s a lot more than a lunch,” Anglin said.