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Rebirth of Gastonia homeless shelter: ‘It’s just like we’ve never been closed’

When the homeless day shelter As One Ministries ran out of money in August, executive director Angela Dreher gave her clients the bad news.

The doors would be closing.

But Dreher, who founded the nonprofit ministry 11 years ago, never gave up. The Community Foundation of Gaston County approved a $35,000 challenge grant for the shelter. As One Ministry not only met the challenge but raised a total of $57,000, with most donations in the $10 to $20 range.

Now, as the weather gets colder, the shelter is back in business. “We’re back full force,” Dreher said. “It’s just like we never closed.”

The shelter, which admits men, women and children, is open seven days a week, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. As One provides breakfast and lunch, and a place where people can do their laundry. About 40 people take showers there each day.

The homeless can get mail at the shelter’s address – 809 W. Airline Ave., Gastonia. The shelter also provide bus tickets so people can go look for work or travel to the doctor.

Although it’s a daytime shelter, Dreher can arrange for clients to sleep there on mats when temperatures drop below freezing.

Since the shelter began operation, Dreher said, it’s served 5,000 people.

Last year, most of the homeless who came through As One Ministries were in their late teens or early 20s.

“This year, we’ve seen an increase in homeless families,” Dreher said. “We get people with little children who need services.”

Even before the shelter opened, Dreher helped the homeless from the trunk of her car.

Money has been a problem the entire 11 years, she said, “and we’ve struggled to get by.” At times, Dreher said, she’s not taken a salary and even borrowed money from her mother to keep the operation afloat.

But this year, things got especially bad. “It was crazy,’ Dreher said.

She recalled the day in August when she told homeless clients As One Ministries couldn’t afford to stay open any longer.

The disappointment showed on their faces.

“Some didn’t believe it,” Dreher said. “Some said they had a few dollars they could drop into the pot. It was heart-breaking. I wouldn’t ask them for money anyway.”

In September, the power was cut off at the shelter, but Dreher still showed up every day so the homeless could pick up their mail or get to doctor appointments.

Meanwhile, she’d started looking for another job.

Then, later in September, Dreher got word that the board of directors of the Community Foundation had approved the $35,000 challenge grant. She and others spread the news about the fundraising challenge through social media and any other way they could think of.

“The response was amazing,” she said. “We got more small donations than large. God worked on it, and we raised $57,000.”

As One Ministries board Chairwoman Beth Montgomery thinks that when the shelter shut down, it opened some peoples’ eyes.

“Maybe closing is what was needed to bring the community together,” she said. “We are extremely thankful people showed their support and recognized the services we provide are worthwhile. Everybody really thought this organization is needed in the community. The support exceeded our expectations.”

Ernest Sumner, executive director of the Community Foundation of Gaston County, said As One Ministries has “served the homeless population significantly in this community, and we felt it was important that they maintain themselves.”

Along with the challenge grant, among the organization’s first, Sumner said one of the Community Foundation’s board members, Ed Sadler, was elected to serve on the As One board “to help them in sustainability for the future.”

Dreher said the ministry also wants to educate people on the work the shelter does. A case manager will be hired soon to work with clients and help them set goals and become self-sufficient, Montgomery said.

The shelter reopened on Oct. 12. Since the weather turned cold, things have been busier than ever. For people who have no place to go during the holidays, they can stop by the shelter for meals.

“This is their home,” Dreher said. “Even on weekends, they know this is home. Sundays they’re here to watch the ballgames. If I’m not here, they know to watch out for the place. This is their place. It belongs to them.”

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