History Part 2
Expanding the Program
In 1996 the original Core Group decided to expand L&F services from offering only overnight emergency shelter to developing a long-term transitional living program. One of the staff members successfully secured a sizeable grant from MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) so that L&F could purchase and renovate the house next door. With the added help of a generous, unsecured loan from Dart Bank, they also built a connecting wing between the two homes which they called “The Gathering Place.”
The newly purchased house was remodeled into three 2-room apartments, along with shared kitchen, bath, living and dining rooms to shelter three single moms with 2-3 small children. Since this house was also on Sycamore Street, the Core Group decided to call it Zacchaeus House in memory of the Gospel story where Jesus gently coaxed the tax collector down from a Sycamore tree to dine with him in his home. A few years later a Lansing realtor, inspired by the selfless service of his cousin who is one of our lifelong volunteers, gave L&F another house located seven blocks away. This enabled the Core Group to establish an identical transitional living program for up to three single men. They called it Luke’s House after the Gospel evangelist and physician Luke, who undoubtedly cared for many homeless people in his day. Both of these transitional living programs offer housing and professional advocacy support to residents for 6 months to 2 years. With the introduction of these added services, the official name of the organization was changed to “Loaves and Fishes Ministries.”
The Support of Volunteers
Along with the Staff and Core Community who worked feverishly to keep the program alive and thriving over these many years, another group of “staff,” whose service has been critical to L&F, is the vast number of volunteers. Men and women – young and old, rich and poor, of varied races, cultures and religions. Often those who worked the daily 6 to 10pm shift at the emergency overnight shelter brought their children with them to welcome and feed our tired guests – many of whom had spent the day walking the streets or sleeping in parks and under bridges. Other volunteers took the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift – making sure that all was well before guests would bed down for the night. After that they, as “overnight guests” themselves, slept in the volunteer office, waking early the next morning to make a hot breakfast for the hungry residents.
Other volunteers brought in freshly cooked hot meals each day to be served in the evening, helped with building and grounds keeping, office work, mailings, preparing for and working at annual yard sales, making repairs, all in the loving service of helping to mentor our guests into a more wholesome way of life. There were literally hundreds of such wonderfully generous people through the years. These are the other heroes and heroines whose names are often known only to the homeless whose eyes they have looked into, whose empty stomachs they have filled, and whose worn out laundry they have washed. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year – every year – serving out of the goodness of their hearts and the generosity of their spirits. Some of the original volunteers who started in the early 1980’s are still serving today! Imagine the welcome they will receive when they are greeted at the heavenly banquet someday – sitting beside the very ones they so lovingly cared for.
The Support of Donors
Of course, we could never have done any of this without the loving and continued generosity of those who over the years have made financial contributions to keep Loaves and Fishes Ministries going and growing. Among these are literally hundreds of individuals, families, churches, ministers, religious women and priests, civic organizations, schools and students, and other non-profit support organizations, as well as public and governmental organizations including: MSHDA, City of Lansing, American Red Cross, Greater Lansing Food Banks, United Way, Salvation Army, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Many of us who come to serve through Loaves and Fishes Ministries are involved in advocating for social justice and peace in our world. Buoyed up by all that went before us, we follow in the footsteps of our L&F founding mothers and fathers, who – like Mother Teresa of Calcutta – simply saw themselves as “serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.” But while rejoicing over the incredible story of Loaves and Fishes Ministries, we also grieve that in the 21st century, we still need homeless shelters in a society where everyone should have not only what they need to survive, but also to thrive! So while nurturing a God-like conscience in ourselves, we continue to ask the question “WHY”– challenging the system that rewards the “haves” and punishes the “have-nots” among us. And like any good disciples, we pray that many more will join in our mission until the day when our society becomes TRULY JUST – serving the welfare and Common Good of ALL.
And so Loaves and Fishes Ministers continues today as it has since 1979, fulfilling its call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. Gracefully responding to the needs that are within its power to meet. Compassionately seeing in each of those we serve, the loving face and heart of God who calls us all to be ONE family. After all, what else is there?
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