Congregation, Partners Seek to Meet Multifaceted Needs of the Homeless
Serving those living outside is nothing new for Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverside, California. The church has a history of feeding homeless guests since 1985. For more than 30 years the congregation of Calvary, with support from the community, has provided a healthy and balanced meal every Sunday night to people living outside and others in need. And volunteers from Victoria Presbyterian Church in Riverside bake fresh desserts for Calvary’s guests. In 2015, the church served over 7,000 meals and has served more than 35,000 since 2011.
“Calvary is a 300-member church in downtown Riverside that truly opened its doors to the ‘least of these,’” said Sonja Almgren, one of eight Hot Meals coordinators. In fact, it was the church’s outreach ministry and particularly the Hot Meals program that led Almgren and her husband to join Calvary.
“We saw a church that chose not to close their doors to the homeless but chose to open their doors and show the love of Christ to people who needed help. We could see the church’s passion for mission and for social justice, and that’s what attracted us to the church,” she said.
Calvary, however, is doing much more than serving meals to the weekly 150 to 200 guests who are fed through the Hot Meals program. The church’s clothes closet provides clothes, shoes, blankets, and hygiene items for guests each week.
“The work Calvary does is only possible because of the tremendous partnerships we have throughout the entire community,” said Almgren. “This is truly a communitywide ministry. We have volunteers from many different churches and faith-based organizations in Riverside. We also have volunteers from groups like Boy and Girl Scout troops, Rotary Clubs, and many other organizations and individuals.” Businesses of Riverside also give financial support to the Hot Meals program.
The program ministers to virtually every facet of a person’s life. Free dental service is provided by Loma Linda University Dental School. Throughout the year the school brings its fully staffed and equipped dental van to provide dental service for the guests of the program. Students from various schools and colleges serve the guests through the Sole Exchange Program, a student-driven initiative that not only provides shoes but also includes the symbolic act of foot washing by the students. Another unique ministry partner is Taking It to the Streets, a local nonprofit that ministers to the pets of program guests by providing dog food, help with getting the pets spayed and neutered, and other services.
Path of Life Ministries, which formerly housed its administrative office at Calvary, provides free medical exams for guests of the program, through free use of its medical van staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses. The organization is also on the forefront of getting formerly homeless people into permanent housing.
“The Hot Meals program serves those who are chronically homeless due to mental illness or other reasons,” said Almgren. “It’s really hard to find places and landlords who will rent to these individuals. But Path of Life Ministries is doing an outstanding job in finding housing for these individuals.”
She added, “For those of us who volunteer, we get more out of this than we give. It is an amazing experience to minister to the ‘least of these.’”
Gail Strange, Director of Church and Mid Council Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Dear God, please open our eyes to the mission fields in our neighborhoods. We pray for your help making us bold in sharing Jesus’ love by giving our time and smiles as your missionaries. Amen.