“I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was homeless and you gave me a room; Iwas shivering and you gave me clothes; I was sick and you stopped to visit; I was in prison and you came to me.… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40, "The Message")
|Volunteers at Halifax Urban Ministries prepare to deliver food to those in need in Volusia County.|
DAYTONA BEACH – Sometimes when Christians feed those in need, the gift is multiplied because it helps provide shelter and creates a way to discipleship.
“At the very heart of the Gospel is making disciples,” said Troy Ray, a United Methodist elder and executive director of Volusia County’s Halifax Urban Ministries (HUM). “Matthew 25:31-46 gives a vivid description of how disciples approach daily life.
“If we desire to reach people with the love of Christ, then we must see the face of Christ in them and respond to their needs. Until we touch people where they are hurting, their needs deafen them to any words we might say.”
For 31 years, HUM’s primary mission has been fighting homelessness, and that includes distributing food – lots of food – even to those who still have a roof over their heads.
In addition to serving 150,000 hot meals last year, the faith-based organization provided 20,000 bags of food designed to feed a family of four for about three days.
That’s important because of the growing number of families losing their homes. More than half the estimated 5,000 homeless people in Volusia County are part of a family unit, said Mark Geallis, HUM’s community relations and development director.
He calls HUM’s food distribution “homeless prevention” because money saved on groceries can free up cash for rent payments.
“We help people bridge the gap,” Geallis said. “Once they’re out of their home, it’s a lot harder to fix the situation than beforehand.”
Experts elsewhere say a steady food supply is critical in combating homelessness. In Seminole County, where the growing number of homeless children drew national attention last year with a report on CBS television’s “60 Minutes,” feeding kids has been a big part of the community’s response.
Since the report aired, the school board and local churches have established food pantries in 47 schools. They also teamed up to adopt the Red Bag Campaign, an effort patterned after one pioneered by Aloma UMC, Winter Park, and spearheaded by Aloma’s discipling ministries director, Andy Searles.
Teresa Scott, who attends Asbury UMC, Maitland, has been part of that effort. She said the campaign kicked off Aug. 26 with a breakfast attended by about 45 church and charity representatives at the Seminole County Education Center.
The organizations will distribute red grocery bags to donors willing to fill them with food for the school-based food pantries. Students can then take bags home every Friday for weekend meals. Scott said 5,000 bags have been distributed, and about 2,000 children in need have been identified.
In Volusia County, HUM was first developed as an outreach program by the Halifax Ministerial Association. It quickly evolved into hunger-oriented emergency services for needy, hungry, homeless and low-income people. The United Methodist Church provided early leadership, supplying facilities at Daytona-area churches.
Today, HUM also is a UMC outreach ministry and a United Way agency for Volusia and Flagler counties. HUM’s website indicates support from at least 40 church organizations.
“This has always been an ecumenical movement,” Ray said, “though with the Methodist church always in the lead, first by providing facilities. Then all the area United Methodist churches got behind HUM, and later the DeLand district and the conference took us on as an outreach ministry.”
|Longtime Halifax Urban Ministries volunteer Beth Dufoe recently became a staff member running the Bridge of Hope program.|
The nonprofit leverages its $1.2 million budget to fight hunger, both by preventing homelessness and intervening to provide shelter and hope for those already on the street.
While it’s hard to track what happens to every family who receives a bag of food, HUM is confident that the majority of recipients avoid ending up homeless. Others may find their time on the streets significantly shortened.
“We can track participants in our Star Family Shelter,” Geallis said.
“They receive square meals in a comfortable environment with godliness all around them. They get counseling and career guidance. Seventy percent move on successfully and are employed and still in their home a year later.”
During the recent economic downturn, need has grown tremendously, Geallis reported.
One significant 2012 initiative is the “Feed Our Neighbor Call to Action,” launched in cooperation with the Community Foundation of East Central Florida.
“In late June, we had a food summit,” Geallis explained. “We realized there are literally dozens of small food banks and programs tripping over each other. No one knew what the other was doing.”
About 100 people attended the food summit, and the organizations are now working as a team, with HUM coordinating the east side of the county and the Community Foundation the west. The call to action is on track to raise $100,000 in food and cash this month.
|Larry Salerno volunteers his services at Halifax Urban Ministries, where he has received a helping hand in past years.|
“Methodist churches are at the forefront of collecting,” Geallis said.
On the horizon is an idea to build a new shelter equipped to house multiple families in an environment conducive to comfort, services and training programs.
“We have a vision to acquire one of the large abandoned schools and turn it into a shelter,” Geallis said. “It would be tremendous. We’d have vacant acreage for a working vegetable garden and play areas for kids. Classrooms would be easy to convert.
“But taking it from a vision to a reality? We’re not sure how to do that yet. So we’ll just keep praying.”
For information about HUM, visit www.halifaxurbanministries.org.
To see an awarenss video about the Seminole County effort, click here.