By Amara Grautski and Connie Preti
Elected officials and more than 150 community members gathered at Lehman College Saturday afternoon to rally for Operation Restoration, a fundraiser to help rebuild the Love Gospel Assembly and restore the services it provided.
On July 25, the Grand Concourse church was gutted by a four-alarm fire, leaving thousands of the hungry people who were fed every month through its Love Kitchen to seek food elsewhere. “It’s so important that we get back up and running, because there’s a whole community of people that depend on us,” said Love Gospel Assembly Bishop Ronald Bailey. “We’re feeding 300 to 400 people every day, somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 people a month. Those people need these services that we provide, so we’re trying to move quickly.”
During the two-hour event, the college’s Center for the Performing Arts was filled with song, prayer and testimonials about the church’s importance in the Fordham community.
Brian Draper, 53, told audience members that he has been a born-again Christian for about 15 years since finding the church. ”When I first was going, I was only going for the physical food,” Draper said. “It was a way of physically staying fed because of my addiction. But God has such a sense of humor, you know, I’m thinking I’m just physically getting fed, but every time you get fed physically, there always always a word said, a prayer said or someone encouraging you. So then eventually, it was like a seed being watered…and eventually that seed grew into what I am today.”
The largest contribution came from State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, who presented a check of $100,000 from the state senate to a roaring crowd. “An institution such as this provides so much to our communities, but more so plays a vital role in the economic crisis we are experiencing here,” Sampson said. “And the only way we are going to rise from that is through our faith, through institutions, churches like this, who extend beyond the four corners of those institutions.”
“We all know government and the faith have to work together,” Espada added. “God is everywhere.”
Bronx Borough President Rueben Diaz Jr. also spoke and contributed $1,000 to the cause.
Bailey said he believes the turnout from elected officials is evidence that the community cares about the work of the church. “It’s good to get recognition, because it’s not about us, it’s about the work that we’re doing,” Bailey said. “So we thank them, we take the pat on the back and keep going.”
Love Gospel Assembly Deacon Tasha Andrews said the fire resulted in $150,000 worth of equipment damage alone. The church will continue to accept donations through its website: www.lgabronx.com.
Andrews said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.