We regret we are unable to accept new or prior volunteers at these events due to Covid-19 social distancing guidelines and out of an abundance of caution for the many we serve who have weakened immune systems. We are eager to have you join us in the future.
Ask any volunteer who has served with us at Saturday Servings, and they'll likely tell you that they feel they were blessed more by the experience than those they met and served. That's because volunteering at these events is far more than slinging hash or getting your halo shined. And most folks realize that the moment they step out of their comfort zones...praying with strangers, holding hands with skin colors unlike your own, hugging the unbathed, trading your shoes for someone's with holes, or biting your tongue instead of complaining about how miserably hot, cold, or wet you are when you know the person across from you whose styrofoam plate you're loading up with spaghetti doesn't have a home to escape the weather like you will once the last soul is served. Serve with us often, and you'll begin to experience and appreciate all that God is doing through and for our guests and our volunteers. To those who have served with us often and are unable to for now, we sure miss ya! And we look forward to a day when we can have you safely resume!
At our weekly Saturday Servings event, we used to serve a hot meal to 200-300+ homeless or poverty-stricken neighbors. Due to the challenges created by the Covid-19 virus, we have chosen to err on the side of extreme caution with changes intended to protect our most fragile neighbors. Meals that were once prepared and served in person by local churches and businesses are now dropped off just prior to serving, and left for our core team to distribute. In addition to a meal and socially-distanced painfully-brief fellowship, we still provide tents, sleeping bags, toiletries, canned foods, bike repairs, and assistance applying for benefits. We are eager to resume our Ask the Nurse, Let's Pray!, and clothing distribution tables once a safe way to accomplish that is found.
These events are held every Saturday...regardless of weather. Setup begins at 12:30, and we serve until 3:30 or until we run out of meals and groceries.
In November of 2017, we began creating confidential profiles on the households we serve, to allow us to better understand their needs and where we might provide assistance. These profiles show us who needs health insurance, housing, jobs, and emergency shelter. Since 2017, we've created profiles on over 3,800 men, women and children so far. Tragically, over 600 of them indicate they are experiencing homelessness.
In 2016, volunteers from our partner churches and businesses purchased, prepared and served 3,639 delicious hot meals. In 2017, they served 6,469 meals. In 2018, they served 11,565 meals. In 2019, they served 10,739 meals. And in 2020, they have served 7,752 as of September 29th, despite pausing operations for three weeks when the pandemic first struck. Since resuming these events on April 11th, the numbers of guests joining us has returned to pre-Covid levels and continues to climb.
Canned Goods Distributed
Our Mo Hope Mobile Pantry usually provides each member of a household one days' worth of food...2 cans of proteins, 2 cans of veggies, 1 can of fruit, and 1 starch. In response to the Covid-19 virus, we have increased to two days' worth of food. That's 10 cans per person per week at $1 per can. When available, we provide fresh fruit, veggies, and bread. In 2018, over 57,800 cans of food were distributed. And in 2019, we distributed over 53,600 cans. Since resuming operations on April 11th, we have distributed over 74,000 cans of food as of September 29th. The increase in the number of cans we provide has been made possible in large part because of our Neighborhood Canned Food Drive program, created in response to impact on grocery prices and availability our neighbors are experiencing because of the pandemic.
Our Mo Hope Mobile Pantry provides each member of a household a bag of toiletries intended to last a week. Each bag contains a roll of toilet paper, tooth brush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, soap, shampoo, razor, and lip balm. In 2018, over 11,000 toiletry bags were distributed. And in 2019, over 10,700 bags were distributed.
Servings are held at the Brookhill Azalea Shopping Center 5300 Chamberlayne Rd. Across the parking lot from Food Lion.
We began 2020 with our seatbelts buckled, as ten of the first eleven Saturdays served record crowds. Then COVID-19 entered our vocabulary. After pausing operations for three weeks to assess risk factors and modify our processes accordingly, we resumed serving. By the end of July, we had served four more record crowds, and then came August with four record crowds in five Saturdays. Every Saturday in September and so far in October has served record crowds, and the trajectory is rather alarming. The 363 neighbors we served on the October 3rd exceeds every previous Saturday except Christmas of 2018 when we served 405 neighbors, and October 3rd was the first Saturday of the month, which are typically the lowest in guest attendance.
While we are serving quite a few new neighbors, the majority of this growth is due to an increase in those we haven't seen in a while rejoining us. Only God truly knows if this trend and the huge crowds we are currently serving will continue, and therefore, we must plan for it to continue growing as it has. We are currently accepting new groups to prepare the meal for up to 400 people or partner with existing an existing group to share the expense.
At our Ask the Nurse table, Nurse Barbara and her team of Nurses provide free health screenings, wound care, and answers to questions about medical problems our friends are experiencing. They frequently have to refer friends to Emergency Rooms due to their blood pressure and blood sugar readings, and that sometimes means a call to 911.
Our Bible Study led by Bean is open to all who wish to discover who God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are, and what it means to be in relationship with them. Whether they've never heard of the Trinity or were raised by nuns, this gathering accepts our guests where they are in their journey. Those who participate on a regular basis receive their own NIV Bible with jumbo print and red letter text.
Bill the Bike Man and his comrades Archie and Rod run our onsite Bike Shop. Together, they've dovetailed their passion for bicycles and for sharing the Gospel into an amazing ministry that provides donated bikes that they refurbish and present as reliable transportation to those on a long waiting list. They also make repairs and tune the bikes they gift. In the two years since the Bike Shop began, over 103 bikes have been gifted!
Guest birthdays on the last Saturday of every month. Kathie the Cupcake Lady bakes delicious cupcakes and distributes them to everyone whose birthday was in the current month. For many, this is the only time their birthday is acknowledged. Especially if they're homeless.
David oversees our Clothing tables which distributes recently cleaned, in-season clothing and shoes. These items are only accepted between 1pm - 2pm at our serving location, to allow David and his team of volunteers to sort and place them on the tables.
Our Benefits Coordinator, Maureen, assists guest applying for replacement photo IDs, birth certificates, and Social Security cards. She also helps them apply for Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, SSDI, SSI, and other vital benefits.
Prayer Warriors from numerous churches staff our Let's Pray table, and provide personal prayer with guests who request it. Bibles and inspirational literature is also available.
Betty Jo, our Director of Pantry Operations oversees an incredible team of volunteers who rarely miss a Saturday serving guests at our Mobile Pantry, where they receive free canned goods, fresh fruits & veggies, fresh bread, and toiletries. For many, the food they receive means not having to miss meals.
Department of Medical Assistance Services is one of the agencies we partner with to bring access to things like Medicaid and other benefits to those we serve.
There were at least a dozen neighbors waiting for us when we arrived at 12:30 to set up to serve at 1:00. The line kept growing and growing until more than 50 neighbors were lined up sorting out social distancing. That line didn’t end until we had given out all that we had…including a few just-in-case bags of groceries Tom had tucked away in the van. When the last few stragglers had come and gone, God had provided for 336 neighbors through our efforts, and those of many working behind the scenes! Praise God! Thank you all!
We truly appreciate our friends from Shalom Baptist Church for providing the meal yesterday! They’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for quite some time. Each bag of lunch they assembled had an inspirational message stapled to it, and fried chicken, potato salad, pretzels and Zingers inside. Thank you Shalom! It should come as no surprise that the enemy created an unexpected challenge for Shalom in their first time providing a meal. The store that they bought the fried chicken from shorted their order, and Faye & Brenda and team searched all over to fill the need. Thanks for your extra effort!
A friend who generously gave his last nickel to me several weeks ago showed up with a fist full of coins and asked me to pray with him. He recently resumed taking the medications he doesn’t like and is struggling in the ramp up phase where his body adjusts to the dosage with each increase until he reaches the effective dosage. He’s been feeling less and less connected to God, and thought I might be able to help. Can you see the beauty in that? He’s barely a year into his new relationship with Christ, and he’s walking out the Word…“When two or more gather…”, “When two agree…”…and he’s trusting the power of prayer and of God Himself to address what he cannot.
Nine neighbors left with sleeping bags after getting lunch and groceries, and most of them were new faces to us. That’s the most sleeping bags we’ve given out on a Saturday so far in 2020, and the continuation of a disturbing trend we, and other outreaches around RVA, are seeing. With the shelters full and the city’s decision not to provide an overflow shelter this year, we expect we’ll give out more sleeping bags and tents this winter than ever before.
Yesterday’s attendance was the highest we’ve seen this year, and our third largest crowd ever served. Only God knows how many He’ll send us in the coming weeks, but we’re fully preparing for the increase to continue for the foreseeable future. That means preparing enough meals and grocery bags for 350 each week. If your church would like to prepare 350 meals for a Saturday, or perhaps partner with another of our church partners, please private message Shari via this post. 350 is also the new number of bags of groceries and toiletry bags we’ll need each week. If you would like to host a canned food drive for your neighborhood, office, or church, please private message Betty Jo through this post.
Thank you, Father God, for another amazing day of serving!