The Rev. Miniard Culpepper stood outside Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester and a pair of stores in Roxbury Tuesday, handing out $10 in cash to anyone who needed it.
As more and more people lost work because of the coronavirus pandemic, there were many who did.
Across town in East Boston, Sandra Aleman-Nijjar passed out $10 restaurant vouchers because the soup kitchen she usually opens for all three meals on Tuesday was closed by the state shutdown. Her soup kitchen helps the homeless, those with substance abuse disorder, and the working poor.
“What I’m doing today is going around and handing out meal vouchers … they can go to a local restaurant and redeem them for meals worth $10," said Aleman-Nijjar, who founded the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen. “I have several donors who are paying for the meals. This way we get business to our local restaurants while we are hurting.”
She hopes the vouchers will help fill the economic void created by the closing of non-essential businesses across the state.
“I cannot open the doors at the soup kitchen, so this is a way of providing for now until we can get open again,” Aleman-Nijjar said. “The point is not to let them go and not let them be suffering out there without a meal even as we are going through hell. But we find a way.”
For Culpepper, at each of the three locations he went to — his Dorchester church, the Stop & Shop grocery store in Grove Hall and the Save-A-Lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Roxbury — the small amount of cash was met with deep gratitude, especially a man he met in front of the discount store.
“When I first got there, there was a guy standing there saying, ‘I’m hungry. Please help me,’" said Culpepper, the pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. “When I put that $10 in his hand, I am telling you his whole aura, his whole demeanor, changed. $10!”
Culpepper said his foray into direct charitable giving is not new for him or his congregation, which historically has provided food and small amounts of cash at Thanksgiving and presents and small amounts of cash at Christmas.
When Governor Charlie Baker announced sweeping new restrictions to fight the coronavirus, Culpepper decided he should do his part to help.
“I feel so much better. We had a great morning,’’ said Culpepper, who began handing out cash outside his church around 8 a.m. “People were so excited that the church is helping in a biblical way, the way the Lord would expect us to help.”
Many people at the Roxbury stores used the cash immediately for household goods, he said.
Culpepper estimated that he handed out $800, money he said came indirectly from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. Culpepper said he traveled to pray with Warren and used ride-share services on the road. The campaign just sent him $1,000 as reimbursement, he said.
“That reimbursement from her campaign came right in time,” he said. Warren “is still helping folks without even knowing it.”
Culpepper expects that he and his congregation — he was accompanied by two deacons — will continue to look for ways to support the community and those in need of help.
"Many folks didn’t have all that they needed and that $10 just made a big difference,'' he said. “It’s part of what we are called to do.”