I spent my Monday morning walking the halls of the Mission; a place I grew up knowing about and going at least three times a year, every year of my childhood and adolescence. “What more could I possibly learn?” I naively thought as I walked the block or so from the main church building to the back door of the mission.
“It’s still the same,” I thought as I stepped through the door. Literally. The same, unchanged by the tests of time; same walls, same configuration, same clothing donations across the back hallway, same food pantry, and same faint smell of laundry detergent lingering in the air from the latest load of laundry.
But something did feel different, much to my chagrin. “They must be using a different floor cleaner.” I thought, confounded, while being ushered in by Assistant Director, Bernie Scheffler.
I sat in Linda Murphy’s office perusing my 2019 First Street Methodist Mission By the Numbers handout card. Sack lunches – 12,185; Bottles of formula – 54,796. Volunteer hours – 17, 556. Wow, I thought…those were some big numbers!
Linda, the FSMM Director, came in and gave me the tour, and then I saw lots of physical changes, including a new walk-in freezer and refrigerator and a new electronic system that allows the mission to keep track of clients.
I asked her what physical items the mission really needs from our congregation by way of donation. Her reply was instant. “Shoes,” she said. “They need shoes. Their feet are their main mode of transportation, so they go through them much faster than we can hand them out.”
As if on cue, the doorbell rang and Linda answered. I heard past the door, “Hello ma’am, I was wondering if you had any shoes you could give me. These shoes are too tight, and I could really use a pair that fit right.”
Linda glanced back at me, her eyes saying, “See…?”
Then she replied thoughtfully and with respect, “We’re closed right now, but come back Wednesday morning and I’ll have a pair for you.”
She came back to our conversation and explained that right now the Mission can only give out shoes once every six months based on their donation stock — and a lot of people who experience homelessness require new shoes more regularly than that.
We went on with the tour, and along the way I learned just how much this Mission has grown in the years since my childhood. And there is also something to be said for the clarity of perspective adulthood brings. Some say ignorance is bliss, and sometimes the ignorance of childhood is something I yearn for; however, the things I consider valuable or important as an adult are quite different from the things I thought were of value as a child.
In the decades that have passed since then, I see now the impact this Mission, and by proxy, our church, has had, not only the folks who experience homelessness in our city, but also on our own congregation.
In addition to the usual Mission services like sack lunches, doctor’s visits, JPS connect assistance, and ID services, some of the continued outreach services our Mission now actively support include:
- Food 4 Kids;
- Thanksgiving baskets;
- Dentistry and denture services;
- Monthly clothing bank for the unsheltered including hygiene kits;
- Home start up kits;
- Grocery services;
- Once-weekly laundry services on a first come first served basis;
- Infant formula and diapers;
- Room in the Inn, providing the unsheltered with much needed shelter on the hottest and coldest nights of the year including haircut services for those in need;
- And their newest venture, Roots First.
Did you know?
- In 2019, moms struggling to make ends meet visited the Mission for infant formula services 1,064 times, receiving the equivalent of over 54,000 bottles of formula, along with age appropriate cereal, fruits, vegetables, and meats for older babies!
- During our twice-weekly services for neighbors experiencing homelessness, Mission guests can grab a nutritious sack lunch to-go (we are semi-famous for our fresh oranges!), or enjoy some time indoors complete with coffee, lemonade, and other refreshing beverages!
- During our twice-weekly services for friends experiencing homelessness, our clothing bank provided over 4000 sets of clothing, 4000 hygiene kits, and 1200 pairs of comfortable walking shoes!
- Our neighbors experiencing homelessness may use our FSMM mailing address as their own so they can stay in better contact with loved ones and have a stable mailing address in order to receive necessary documents from JPS, among others!
- In 2019, Mission volunteers served 12,185 sack lunches to guests!?
- One Mission volunteer, Carol Harrell, noticed that the men and women who visit our Mission, did not have someone to celebrate their birthday so she decided to change that and started making and handing out “Birthday Bags” to anyone who comes into the Mission on the day of their birth!
- No other downtown services offer hot meals, sack lunches, and worship for the unsheltered on Sunday mornings? Our DiscipleChurch volunteers and First Church staff have taken it upon themselves to change that. Now, our church is the only organization downtown offering this sort of opportunity to our friends who experience homelessness.
- FUMCFW only provides the funds for the overhead costs of the FSMM, covering utilities and building maintenance; all other funding for programming comes directly from Mission fundraising and individual donations? (If you would like to donate to this worthy cause, please click here and select First Street Methodist Mission.
Transformation and reflection are common themes of the Season of Lent. At the end of our visit at the Mission, Linda offered some of these words of reflection on her time serving at the Mission. “When I started working, I thought I should do as much for as many people as I could,” she said, “but over time I realized that this work was transforming m — not the other way around.”
It seems that this is a common thread that runs through life as a volunteer at the Mission. You think you’re there to Transform Lives, as our tagline says. However, it’s most often the volunteer who is also transformed. When you are able to see yourself in the eyes of others, that transformation can come to you as unexpectedly as a summer storm.