Serving Starfish: The Heartfelt Journey of St. Alfred’s Rice Bagging Ministry

In the heart of St. Alfred’s Episcopal Church, a simple act of kindness blossomed into a remarkable journey of service and solidarity. It all began in 2007 with a chance encounter on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg – a moment that would ignite the flame of compassion within the congregation.

On that chilly October evening, after a delightful dinner and a soul-stirring concert, a stark reality unfolded before the eyes of parishioners. The sight of homeless individuals, particularly the young teenagers, bedding down for the night at Mirror Lake in downtown St. Petersburg stirred a deep sense of empathy and urgency. In response, St. Alfred’s sprang into action, filling their narthex with essentials to provide comfort and warmth to those in need.

However, their plans to distribute these donations were thwarted by new regulations, leaving them at a crossroads. Undeterred, they sought alternative avenues to channel their generosity. Through research and deliberation, St. Alfred’s discovered DayStar Life Center, a beacon of hope in their community.

At DayStar, amidst humble beginnings in a tiny house on 6th St. S, a serendipitous encounter with a volunteer bagging servings of rice sparked an idea – the birth of the Starfish Ministry. Named after the poignant Starfish Story, parishioners rallied together to purchase and divide bulk rice into manageable servings that would be distributed at DayStar, in a small but meaningful effort to alleviate hunger.

Gathering once a month, volunteers meticulously bagged rice, accompanied by personal care items donated with love. Despite challenges, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, their commitment remained unwavering. Even as the world grappled with uncertainty, they persisted, adapting their methods to ensure the continuity of their mission. Just like the story of the Starfish, a few bags of rice measured each month can make a small difference in the world, but over the years, these small numbers have added up to a real impact. In June, St. Alfred’s will reach 13 tons of rice bagged and donated to DayStar!

From bagging rice in homes to cautiously returning to group gatherings post-pandemic, the spirit of camaraderie and compassion has endured. Beyond the tangible impact on those served, the Starfish Ministry has built a nurturing community of fellowship among parishioners.

In the words of Susan Broward, Head of the Outreach Ministry at St. Alfred’s, “Like many outreach projects, the miracle of this ministry for St. Alfred’s is that it brings people from both our services together in fellowship, which would never happen on its own.”

Indeed, amidst the ebb and flow of life, it is the bonds forged in service to others that illuminate the path forward, embodying the essence of Christ’s mission in the world.