A homeless man wanted to return to school so he could get a job, but he had no transportation. It resulted in a ministry that spans now two churches in Pasco County
First United Methodist Church in New Port Richey and Hope United Methodist Church in Trinity have provided more than 50 bicycles in the past seven months for those who need transportation.
"It all started with a young man named Daniel. He came out of the woods near our clothes closet and told us he wanted to get his GED. But he had no way to get to school," said Jean Howell, the local mission leader at Hope UMC.
Howell said she believed in him, went out and purchased a bike for Daniel.
"He started school, got a job and got out of the woods," Howell said. "I saw this as an opportunity to help other people."
|Florida Food Force donated bikes to the ministry.|
Howell said the bike ministry began as an extension of the Hope Clothing Boutique, a clothing ministry the Methodist church operates at a nearby Presbyterian mission. The word spread to First United Methodist, which operates a similar clothes closet.
Howell, with a few other volunteers at each site, oversees both locations. Some volunteers also work to repair bikes for distribution or help those in the area who need tires for existing bikes.
To begin the ministry, she started to solicit bicycles from fellow church members and friends. Others heard about it and donated unused bikes or supplies.
"In the last month, we have even had organizations donate to the bike ministry," she said. "Also, I drive a big red truck, and I am able to go out and get donated bikes."
To receive a bike, a person must register. When a person receives the bike, the recipient also gets a bike lock and bike lights.
"When you sign up for this, you have to take care of it. You cannot come back if it is stolen," Howell said.
The ministry doesn't encourage the distribution of children's bikes through the program. The focus is mainly is to get people to work or school.
From the bike ministry, another outreach grew: providing work boots with hard toes.
She said another homeless man asked for them so he could start a job. She asked his size and bought them.
"Oh the tears, just from a $25 pair of work boots," she said. "We try to help all the people we can that are in the woods. We call them our friends in the woods."
The ministries are funded by the Hope church, which has a $5,000 mission budget. She said she has asked to double that next year. She also gets some small donations, especially for special needs, from church members, and volunteers.
Howell, 69, is retired former art teacher who still does some artwork. She said that helping others through ministry outreach has become her passion.
How did that happen? She has simple answer: "This is what God put me here to do."
—Lenora Lake is a freelance writer based in Tampa.