This morning, St. Matthew Catholic Church, Charlotte's largest house of worship, will donate $100,000 to 20 agencies serving the homeless.
It's a sign of these dire economic times: A growing number of churches and synagogues – many, like St. Matthew, with affluent congregations – are doing more for those with less.
Covenant Presbyterian on Nov. 9 sent out more than 550 volunteers – 200 more than the goal – for a day of volunteer work on a multitude of projects, many to help the homeless.
And starting Nov. 30, the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar, the Jeremiah 29:7 group – a network of Presbyterian, United Methodist, Episcopal and Baptist churches – plans a citywide food drive to replenish the pantries at Loaves & Fishes and Friendship food trays for seniors.
In this sour economy, says Maria Hanlin, head of Mecklenburg Ministries, “there are so many people falling through the cracks that it gives the faith community an opportunity to be who God calls us to be.”
St. Matthew, a 26,000-member congregation in Ballantyne, has been collecting its money all year. An April fundraising fast by the church's teenagers raised $48,000. A “Pennies for the Homeless” campaign conceived by Micki Cazares, a longtime parishioner who wanted to do more for people on the street, brought in almost $23,000 in coins.
“With all the discussions about the economic downturn, it would be easy to forget agencies that support the homeless,” said Monsignor John McSweeney, pastor at St. Matthew. “This is a challenge, from our faith-based community, to other faith-based communities to respond.”
St. Matthew will slice its $100,000 into 20 pieces for agencies in Mecklenburg and Union counties. The biggest recipients, getting $12,000 apiece, are Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte, the Salvation Army Center of Hope for homeless women in Charlotte, and Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry.
Receiving $10,000: A Child's Place, which serves more than 1,000 homeless children attending Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“This gift couldn't have come at a better time,” said Annabelle Suddreth, executive director of A Child's Place. “Because there is a declining economy, most folks are less able to give because they have to care for their own families. … And yet, the number of people we serve is increasing. We're seeing more children than before.”
Suddreth said the money from St. Matthew will help her agency expand into an 11th public school. A Child's Place puts staff members in the schools to make sure homeless students have all they need: medical and dental service, mental health support, hygiene help, school supplies, tutors, a snack that could become dinner, a uniform if that's what the school requires, and “a familiar face every morning.”
Photos and gardens
Covenant Impact Charlotte, the volunteer day, was the brainchild of Covenant Presbyterian's new pastor, the Rev. Bob Henderson.
Covenant members – including a teen model and some photographers – gave makeovers to some homeless women and children staying at the Salvation Army Center of Hope, then took frame-worthy pictures of them. Some residents had no other photos to document their children's early age. At Hope Haven, where residents are recovering addicts, the photographers made an extra copy of one picture so a woman could send it to the mother she hasn't seen in years.
Church members with green thumbs created a meditation garden at Samaritan House, which offers homeless people just out of the hospital a quiet place to recover.
Covenant's flock, with more than a few bank employees, is beginning to feel the economy's sting.
“We wanted people to go out, especially in this economy, to see there are those whose lives are a lot tougher than theirs,” said Carla Leaf, director of community outreach. “A lot of us have been protected from the way people in poverty have to cope. But as that (economic) insecurity is going up the social ladder, it's making people more aware.”