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 3,300 men, women and children so far. Tragically, over 500 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 6,268 as of August, 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 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 three days' worth of food. That's 15 cans per person at $1 per can per week. 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 50,000 cans of food as of August 27th. 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.
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.
The forecast yesterday morning showed a two to three hour rainless window during much of the time we would be serving. It appeared we might catch a break from all this rain we’ve endured lately. Nope. It rained without cease, and though that brought the typical challenges like leaking waterproof jackets and rain-absorbent COVID masks, it also brought a great deal of laughter as the canopies frequently held pools of water that required dumping or else the unsuspecting got doused. Great times serving with great friends!
The soaking we received under the canopies certainly gave us a renewed appreciation for what hundreds of our unsheltered neighbors endure with every passing storm, but it was merely a glimpse of something I doubt any of us can fully comprehend without living it as so many do without cease. Several of our unsheltered friends were among the 193 neighbors we served. One returned “home” to a tent we provided, one to his vehicle, one under a bridge, one in the doorway of a building downtown…I could go on. Thanks to our generous donors, two of our friends received emergency shelter in motels. It might have been more, but the risk of leaving camp unattended over night outweighed a dry night in a motel that could leave them with nothing when they returned “home”.
Wonderful volunteers from Heights Church brought us 450 delicious sandwich meals from Jason’s Deli! Most guests received two sandwiches, and the remaining were taken to guests at a nearby motel. We’ve learned that what some might see as surplus is usually God showing us we have others to serve. Thank you Heights Church and Jason’s Deli for being a conduit for so many Moments of Hope!
I’ll close by acknowledging the zany, Jesus-loving, storm-proven members of our Saturday Servings core team currently doing most of our serving work in these pandemic-shaped days. For Betty Jo, Maureen, Sydney, and Tom, their soggy serving day began around 7:30am at the pantry preparing for the 62 families who started arriving by 8am for drive-thru service and spanned through 11am. Then they immediately joined Shari, Dave, and me at Azalea for Saturday Servings. You folks are inspiring, and ya make serving a blast! Thank you! Thank you, Lord, for building this ministry on the shoulders of followers like these, and so many others whom we miss!