FLINT, Michigan -- When it comes to serving the Flint community, Kevin Croom doesn’t give up and puts his whole heart into everything he takes on.
The Asbury Church director of operations oversees a wide range of programs for the busy church. But he’s also had to do so with an added burden over the past year. After contracting COVID-19, Croom developed permanent lung damage and requires supplemental oxygen daily. Croom has continued with his work as if nothing has changed, though.
“I love to see people smile, I love to make people happy,” he said.
Croom has greatly impacted countless lives of people in the Eastside Franklin Park neighborhood and beyond in surrounding wards. His background makes him a perfect fit to work with community members of all ages. He’s a Flint Southwestern graduate, played football at Northern Illinois University, was drafted by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, is a U.S. Navy veteran, and a culinary artist.
Croom’s work at Asbury Methodist Church started during the Flint water crisis
“We were serving 1,500 people food and water a week,” Croom said. “And we did that for two years until the governor took the royalties away for Flint.”
But after the funding ended for the program in September 2017, Croom refused to stop serving community members who were still in need of food and water.
Kevin Croom works with Asbury Church's youth-led program, Sizzling Culture, and shows students how to assemble and cook shish kabobs during the Eastside Franklin Park yearly craft fair in July.
“We continued to on our own. Just delivering water because people got used to us. And people recognizing like, ‘Hey, you're the waterman. You're the food man.’ And it was mostly seniors who were saying that,” he said.
Croom’s experience as a supervisor for the largest distribution center for the water delivery program led him to see parts of Flint that most will never see or experience.
“We had three wards, and everybody else had only one ward,” Croom said. His team was entering 200 homes per week and delivering food and water to primarily residents 41 and older. It was while entering these homes Croom came into direct contact with his biggest lesson.
“I learned about the poverty-stricken eastside,” he said. “I had no idea that the eastside of Flint was this poverty-stricken. I was wholeheartedly surprised. Some homes were in gruesome conditions.” The conditions of the homes and the ongoing need for the elders of the community motivated Croom on a deeply personal level. “They needed food, they needed water.”
Croom worked directly with Asbury Rev. Tommy McDoniel to continue finding ways to strengthen and support the community surrounding Asbury.
“He [Rev. McDoniel] found ways to deal with the funding ending,” Croom said. “He knew that the only thing he had to do is tell me what he wanted to do. He knew I was going to get it up. That's what we did. We just kept providing people with food and water. You know, we do pretty decently with our pantry. People walk up from the streets and say, ‘Hey, my house burnt up yesterday, I ain’t got no food. Can I get some food or something?’ And we take care of them. We just ended up being fulfilled, we were just very happy out of the responses we’re getting because people started recognizing us as a church.”
Croom smiles during the interview every time his phone rings with questions from Asbury’s youth-led program on food storage, meal prep, meal plans, and questions regarding work hours for Asbury Farms employees. Each call Croom considers part of his opportunity to show the youth working for Asbury Farms how labor creates self-sustainability.
“Youth come here with a work-based learning environment. They come in and we make everything as real as possible,” Croom said. “Right now, the way we got it set up is they work in modules. They'll come in and they'll do the garden for four weeks. Then they'll come out of the garden and do the kitchen, like harvesting and production, cleaning the vegetables, getting ready for market. They do that for two weeks and in between the two weeks, they're also helping out with the help center. Then we have Sizzling Culture
, it's a cooking class. They come in, they learn how to cook and I am always stepping in because I teach them how to cook along with Desi [Desiree Duell, Community Development Director at Asbury Church and co-founder of Sizzling Culture] and give them nutritional information. Let them know what's involved in what they eat or what they're gaining out of what they're eating, the nutritional aspects. It’s wonderful.”
Brook Terry, 19, pictured with Kevin Croom, is a second-time employee at Asbury Farms.
Croom and other team members not only create a work-based learning environment but a space that celebrates diversity. “We show people how to work as a team and how to work with people of different cultures,” he said. “A lot of minorities have not been around Caucasians and a lot of Caucasians have never been around minorities. But when they leave, they all love each other. We’re a family, it’s like a family setting.”
Croom’s leadership aligns with Rev. McDoniel’s hope that the church can create independence
and self-sustaining programs in the community, particularly among young people.
After surviving COVID-19, enduring nine weeks in the hospital, Croom recalls the hospital staff wheeling deceased patients past his room several times each day. When I asked him if he was ever afraid, he answered, “It wasn’t scary because I had faith that God would pull me through it.”
Croom originally lost 80 pounds during the onset of his illness, but he was determined to not give up on his independence and health. “You know, when I was in the hospital, the second day I was bathing and dressing myself. The staff asked me, ‘how are you doing that?'’ I promised them, Jesus.”
Croom’s passion for life, for others, and for his faith continue to keep him devoted to Asbury and the community. “I’m a worker. I just love to see people happy, it just takes a little to make people happy.”