Downtown churches start coordinating homeless outreach with focus on hunger

Patrick Dodds, executive director of Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, explains the food banks role in partnering with churches.
Patrick Dodds, executive director of Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, explains the food banks role in partnering with churches.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Downtown Gainesville churches want to better serve homeless neighbors and have started discussions with a focus on hunger outreach, coordinating services and cataloging all the programs in operation.  

The churches and a couple nonprofits have met twice and selected two co-coordinators for the group—Patrick Dodds with Bread of the Mighty and Pastor Gerard Duncan with Prayers by Faith Ministries.  

Mayor Harvey Ward began the coordination and, at a Monday gathering, he explained that Gainesville isn’t starting a new program—though it remains ready to help community partners. In his role as mayor, he facilitated getting the church leaders together to begin discussions, leaving the group to move forward.  

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“It isn’t as if this is a new idea for downtown churches,” Ward said. “The downtown churches have been leaning into homeless services and support for many, many years.”   

While the work has been done for decades, churches sometimes duplicate services and times. By coordinating, Ward hopes the outreach work becomes more effect. He said he plans to bring downtown businesses together as well.  

Beth Snarr, lead pastor of First Methodist United Methodist Church, said the communication between churches has lagged in the past. She said she was glad Ward called the leaders together, calling the meetings a good first step.   

She said continued communication is critical. 

“It’s just so easy to get siloed because you’re so focused on getting done the ministry that you’re doing that it’s hard to make space, but it’s critical,” Snarr said. 

The meetings have included leaders from First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, City Church, Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, Williams Temple Church Of God In Christ, Prayers by Faith Ministries, St. Francis House and Helping Hands Clinic. 

Many churches already offer meals once or twice a week, either at their buildings or serving through St. Francis House. Leaders said they want to create a list of services to hand out, showing what meals, clothes and other services are provided when and where. 

Pastor Scott Stuart with First Presbyterian said not each person who comes for a meal will say, “I could also use clothes.” Having a handout lets everyone see the available resources without needing to ask. 

He said the group has been like a think tank focused on homelessness and the hunger aspect.  

Mayor Harvey Ward explains the goal behind increased communication between downtown churches.
Photo by Seth Johnson Mayor Harvey Ward explains the goal behind increased communication between downtown churches.

“I think these are the moments that allow us to kind of put these things out in the open and to create more awareness,” Stuart said about the coalition of churches.  

Bread of the Mighty is working on a master list that will contain all food program, from churches to nonprofits. Dodds said they expect the website to be ready in the next 45 to 60 days.  

He said Bread of the Mighty is the natural partner for anyone providing meals. As the food bank for North Central Florida, Dodds said the nonprofit distributes 9 million pounds of food each year.  

Partnering with the churches helps get the food into the community with reduced costs for the churches. Dodds said Bread of the Mighty received a lot of its supply from large grocery stores.  

Local restaurants are already tied into the church network. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church receives leftover pizza from Leonardo’s and uses it for its Sunday Streetside breakfasts.  

“There are organizations that are dedicated to trying to end homelessness and that are dedicated to housing folks, so this group has really decided their core focus will be on feeding the community,” Dodds said. 

Pastor Michael Frazier said Mt. Pleasant has served food for the last 20 years and probably feeds 120 people a week, and he said the church is looking to expand its impact. 

“Our goal is to broaden our scope of focus to some other area that are needed, particularly as it relates to housing and mental illness,” Frazier said.  

Ward said the discussions have shown that around 125 volunteers are already working in homeless programs in these downtown churches and nonprofits. He said the downtown area needs coordinated action as it is the area of greatest need and where the need is most visible.  

“I wanted to get them together and get a good focus and a good coordination through the faith community and let them go off and do what they do—knowing that the city of Gainesville is here to help and to serve and to coordinate with them,” Ward said. 

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Jeanie West

Thanks for this article. It’s good to know what is being done to help our homeless neighbors.

Gwen Gadaire

Good to know!