Father Domenic Rossi of the Bethesda Project called Pastor Michael late the in the third week of March with some sad news. The Bethesda Project, with whom Old First partners to run the shelter each year from November 1 to May 1, was looking to close the shelter a month early. That meant, Thursday, March 30, about a week after this call came in, would have been the final night.
Bethesda had been paying all their expenses for the shelter, approximately $164 a night, without the government grant that usually covers most of their costs for the program. Old First provides the facilities and supplies, and organizes dinners for the shelter. Bethesda covers the costs of the Night Supervisor, as well as providing the Shelter residents with bathing facilities, a daytime drop-in center and social services through Our Brothers’ Place.
Since the shelter opened in November, Bethesda has been waiting for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant that has, to date, still not come through. Bethesda has run up quite a deficit for its church-based shelters this season, even having had to borrow money to cover their costs. With no word from Washington when, or even if, the FEMA grant will be forthcoming, Bethesda felt it had no choice but end its growing liability by closing the shelter early.
Michael understood the predicament Bethesda found itself in; clearly an organization cannot continue to pay out money that it does not have.
But Michael was also concerned for our shelter residents. Thinking they still have a month with us, they had not begun looking around for alternative housing options. And the timeline did not offer them enough time to do so. And so far Spring is late this year– with little warmth for people who are sleeping on the street.
He asked Father Dominic if Old First could fundraise to cover Bethesda’s costs for the last month so that the shelter could continue until the end of the season. It’s not in our budget, which doesn’t have an extra $5,000. to spare. Father Domenic expressed gratitude that Old First might consider taking on such a responsibility.
Jill Soubel, the Wellspring Team Leader, was the first person Michael contacted. She thought it was a worthy commitment. In time, Bob Schneider for the Elders, Larry Waddell for the Admin. Team and Adam Sherr, our Treasurer all became part of the conversation.
Old First has told Bethesda we will pay to keep the shelter open through the end of April. This financial commitment is our stepping out in faith.
To that end, Old First will:
~ set up a restricted fund to receive the approximate $5,000 additional cost Old First has taken on for running the shelter for the month of April.
~ write to individuals beyond Old First and to other congregations that have contributed to our Shelter in the past; this will be the second letter this season asking if they can help out as we are facing this added responsibility. Please contact Jill Soubel if you know of someone who might be willing to contribute.
~ notify the local newspapers, t.v. and radio news of our effort, and thereby gain publicity for our fundraising effort and our church’s commitment to the men of our shelter. Please contact Mindy Beecher in the church office if you have a personal contact within a news organization.
~ write our elected and governmental officials to see if they have any discretionary funds or connections by which we might receive some help with this unexpected cost.
~ invite the men of the shelter to help us with some fundraising through a special fried fish dinner sale for workers and neighbors on the Friday before Holy Week, April 15.
~ invite members and friends of Old First to consider prayerfully a special offering of any size to contribute towards keeping the shelter open.
If you have any other ideas for how we might fund raise to keep the shelter open to April 30, please be in touch with Jill.
In all things, glory and praise to God
Michael Caine with help from Karen Winey