Church helps homeless come out of the cold (Jan. 12, 2004)



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Church helps homeless come out of the cold

 

Jan. 12, 2004  News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140
mwacht@flumc.org, Orlando  {0003}
 

First United Methodist Church, Kissimmee, opens its doors when temperatures drop below 20 degrees. 
   

           

KISSIMMEE — Members of First United Methodist Church here are not content to be snug in their beds when temperatures dip below 40 degrees. And they want to do more than give money to homeless shelters, so they became one.  
         

Homeless brothers Jim (left) and Bob Steele show off their Christmas gift bags from the youth at First United Methodist Church, Kissimmee. The youth distributed more than 40 bags filled with candy, soap, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other personal items. The church has opened the doors of its fellowship hall for more than 20 years to serve as a homeless shelter, providing a warm place to sleep and a hot meal for homeless men and women. The church also offers a weekly dinner followed by a worship service called Sunday Night Alive for the homeless each Sunday at 6 p.m.
Photo by Dwight Oakes

For more than 20 years the church has opened the doors of its fellowship hall to serve as a homeless shelter, providing a warm place to sleep and a hot meal for homeless men and women. The program also gives away blankets on a regular basis.

           

Jenny Johns, the church’s administrator, said the church has been providing this service to the community for 20 years. She said church members volunteer to work four-hour shifts beginning at 3 p.m. and ending at 7 a.m., when men and women leave after a hot breakfast.

           

“It’s a good feeling to help those people. It makes you thankful for what you have,” Johns said. “There are so many people who are one paycheck away from being homeless.”

           

The Rev. Grant Siegfried, pastor at the church, said it’s been very challenging and rewarding to minister to the homeless.

           

“The homeless have special needs because you want to be effective without enabling them,” Siegfried said. “You want to help them so they will be able to grow and help themselves.”

           

While considering the duality of helping and not enabling homeless people, Siegfried said the church is not shying away from being in ministry with them. In addition to meeting their physical needs the church is meeting their spiritual needs through a weekly dinner followed by a worship service called Sunday Night Alive each Sunday at 6 p.m.

           

“We are committed to being the downtown church and ministering to the complete community. There is a significant amount of homeless people in this area,” he said. “We find ourselves called to reach out to them. We perceive them as individuals, as if we are ministering to Christ himself.”

           

Johns said church and community members have been faithful contributors to the food pantry and in collecting needed items, such as coats and blankets.

 

“I have a man who will come in, ask me what we need and in a few days he will come back with the items,” she said. “It’s because of people like that that we never turn anyone away who’s hungry.”

 

Johns said a few of their homeless guests often open up and share their stories with church volunteers.

           

“Some are day laborers. Some regular ones come all the time,” Johns said. “One young woman said she spent 16 months in jail for a cocaine habit. She said she would never do it again. I told her I would hold her to it…I told her about the Narcotics Anonymous program at the church.”

 

Siegfried said the church works with anyone willing to step out of the vicious cycle of addiction.

“In the name of Christ, we will meet them where they are,” he said.

 

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This article relates to Church and Society.

 

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor

of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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