A long time ago I was the Director of an after school program. Before our church used its small endowment to build The Jubilee Center across the street from public housing the neighborhood was just a liquor store, fast food restaurants and a tow yard. After much nail biting and many sleepless nights, The Jubilee Center opened when the rector of my then church and I convinced a state senator to buy into the church’s dream. He secured a big, renewable government grant that paid for just about everything at the Center from the light bills to an Alvin Ailey dancer for our arts program.
One day while listening to NPR I heard a report about deep cuts being made to New Jersey community service grants due to a state budget crisis. Plugging my ear with a finger to hear the senator’s secretary on the phone over the happy noise of kids playing “Red Rover” I asked, in the breeziest sounding voice I could muster, “So, those budget cuts don’t have anything to with us, right?”
Into this breech stepped a volunteer (who I’m pretty sure was the only Republican for miles) named Larry. Opposed to big government anyway, Larry was not ashamed to hit up all of his well-heeled neighbors for donations to The Jubilee Center. I was sure there was no way there were enough people who would say “yes”. I was wrong about that too.
Not only did the people Larry and I asked say “yes”, many of them got curious about the program they’d helped to save and started showing up to tutor and hold holiday parties. After it lost its big grant The Jubilee Center wasn’t just “the churches mission” anymore. It belonged to people from all over town, from different faiths and none. What they had in common was that they always cared and just needed to know they were needed.
For over twenty years, volunteers have been making hot breakfasts every weekend in the gym of Grace Church Van Vorst for about a hundred, hungry mostly homeless people. Staffing has always been volunteer so there isn’t much overhead but the food is expensive and the Breakfast Program of Grace Community Services (GCS) has always relied on a federal grant to buy it.
However, governmental eligibility requirements for people to receive this food have been tightened. Now, to receive our grant, GCS needs to make copies of our guest’s social security cards, pay stubs, disability and insurance information.
I’m pretty sure most people know that being homeless means you don’t have an address. Without an address it’s difficult or impossible to collect most of the personal documents the government grant now requires.
Besides that, the Breakfast Program was started by a church. The Old and New Testaments have plenty to say about members of religious institutions who turn away hungry people. None of it is good and most of it involves “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
That’s why for the first time in twenty-three years and with unanimous board approval, Grace Community Services has just turned down a Community Development Block Grant for $20,000. That’s a lot of money to walk away from but it’s still not enough to tell one hungry person he can’t join us for Breakfast. With our luck that hungry person would be Jesus, so we just can’t afford it.
Once while I was whining about work an old church lady pointed out to me what a privilege it is to be needed.
Brothers and sisters: you’re needed.
So far, Grace Community services has raised $14,000 to replace our 2018 CDBG grant. If you’d like to chip in to help us with the remaining $6,000 you can make a donation here. squareup.com/store/grace-community-services.