For almost five years, various members of the Peachtree City Seventh-day Adventist church in Sharpsburg, Georgia have come to Gateway on the first Saturday of each month with delicious hot lunches for the residents (and any staff who happen to be working on those days).
Last month, we talked with Laurie Allgood, one of the group’s leaders, about how the PTC church’s ministry to those experiencing homelessness has evolved over the years…and why the group is so passionate about serving at Gateway.
Tell us how your ministry began, before you came to GWC.
Several years ago, we started partnering with another church in Atlanta to provide meals one Saturday afternoon each month at an emergency shelter. Our church would cook some basic entrees—usually beans and rice—and the other church would bring additional dishes.
We’d serve hundreds at the shelter, then go to various locations throughout the city—wherever those living on the streets were gathered— to distribute any remaining food. Often we’d literally be serving beans and rice and drinks out of the back of my Saturn Vue— it had movable shelves that we’d take out and hurriedly set up on street corners— so our ministry was somewhat nomadic. Always an adventure, always unpredictable.
How were you led to Gateway?
The other shelter was experiencing multiple facility challenges which in turn created confusion for us. Effective ministries are highly dependent on effective organization, and the increasing lack of that was resulting in extra chaos and unnecessary frustration for everyone.
Our partner church’s leader was familiar with Gateway, so he arranged for us to begin serving here on the first Saturday afternoon of each month. We fell in love with the Center immediately and although the other church moved on to different ministry opportunities elsewhere, we are now finishing our fifth year here!
So you AREN’T still serving beans and rice from the back of a Saturn, then?
(laughs) No! We feel that combining our efforts with those of an established organization like Gateway really maximizes their effectiveness and impact. Now, we’re supporting an ongoing process to actually end homelessness instead of providing only one component—food— in what was previously a somewhat hit-and-miss approach.
And funny you should mention the beans and rice… After we’d been coming to GWC for a few months, I and my co-leader—who actually cooks all the food, thank goodness, since he’s much better at it than I— were planning our upcoming visit at Gateway for the month of December. Of course, up to that point we’d only been responsible for beans and rice, but we decided to take a break and do a full-scale holiday menu: cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green-bean casserole, rolls, desserts, drink. Everyone loved it so much that we began bringing full, hearty, delicious home-cooked meals every month—dishes we really enjoy. We want those we serve to have the best food we can possibly create.
What are some meals your ministry cooks these days for our clients?
Holiday dinners each December. January is also traditional: black-eyed peas, fresh collard greens, “dirty” rice, just-baked cornbread, maybe bread pudding or peach cobbler. We’ve had baked beans, coleslaw, squash casserole, mac and cheese… a baked potato bar with toppings and veggies… thick hot soups with fresh breads… it varies. Once, we did a full-scale breakfast menu: eggs, hash browns, grits, biscuits and gravy. The residents loved it!
Our meals are predominantly vegetarian… but always made from scratch and always unbelievably yummy. In fact, my co-leader is such an awesome cook that some of his dishes have generated on-the-spot marriage proposals. He will not be happy that I shared that.
We make everything at our church in the morning, then bring it up and serve in the afternoon. It’s a ministry the entire Peachtree City Seventh-day Adventist church supports, both financially and through volunteer efforts.
What motivates all of you to minister to those experiencing homelessness?
Oh, gosh. One of the residents here at GWC asked me that question the first time we came. Honestly— and I absolutely believe this— we’re here because “those experiencing homelessness” could so easily be any of us. If homelessness were always simply the result of bad choices or job losses or poor financial decisions, most of us would be in that state. Certainly I would be.
So what differentiates us from those we serve? Perhaps we haven’t also experienced abuse or addictions or illnesses or other devastating circumstances that often result in someone losing a home. Or maybe we have access to resources or training or support that can make the difference in a particular situation. But I think most of us are often only one catastrophe—or less— away from experiencing homelessness ourselves.
So… we’re tremendously grateful that we can come to Gateway and possibly help someone here who’s in a season of struggling. I can’t imagine not doing this.
What would you tell others who are thinking about volunteering at GWC or a similar organization?
Three words: Just do it. Gateway’s phenomenal volunteer coordinator, Bec Cranford-Smith, will happily plug you or your group in wherever you fit best. People here at GWC are amazing: challenges they’ve overcome, goals they’re reaching, differences they’re making in their lives and the lives of others. Show up with a genuine desire to get out of your comfort zone and learn and serve where you’re needed, and your life won’t ever be the same.