As I mentioned in last Thursday's blog, we at UCCEG are pilgrimaging through Advent for Justice. I shared about Mary and Joseph's experience of homelessness as they arrived in Bethlehem for the census. I shared my story.
A little about Chester County and the challenge of homelessness here: Many families across our nation find themselves homeless, especially in high cost of living areas like Chester County. Chester County has a high cost of living, and the opportunities to create income do not match the available housing.
What many people do not know about families experiencing homelessness is that they don’t always fit the stereotype of what you may imagine a “homeless person” to look like. Often, both parents are working multiple jobs, but there are still gaps with the cost of housing. Their kids go to school with your kids, and they may be sitting next to you at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or in church.
In Southern Chester County, where rents are rising but wages have not kept pace, it could be something as simple as a car breaking down or a family member becoming sick that could compromise a family’s housing situation. Transportation is another big obstacle for families living in our community. With little to no public transportation, it is not uncommon to see workers walking or riding bicycles to get to work. With children in the local school systems, family living nearby, and jobs in the immediate area, the reality is that most families must try to balance low wages with the high cost of living in Chester County.
Last week, Cathy shared the story of the Giving Tree and how her family was moved to work for justice.
This week, I want to share the story of Andy and how he was moved to help UCCEG engage with Safe Harbor here in West Chester. Gloria, who is our member working with Safe Harbor has written:
Back in late November of 2019, Andy, a parishioner of the United Church of Christ East Goshen, discussed with Reverend Angelee an idea for a church meal to be shared with members of the congregation and residents of a homeless shelter. The meal was to be held either at the church or at a nearby shelter. Through Andy and his wife Thea’s experiences at their former parishes in Connecticut, these “thanksgiving” meals were successful and well attended. What evolved out of this discussion was a plan to hold a shared fellowship dinner with residents of a homeless shelter in Chester County. Our first event was Memorial Day Weekend, May 24, 2020, and it was decided that Safe Harbor of Greater West Chester would be chosen for this endeavor. This idea was being presented as a mission and outreach effort by the church and was mentioned at both the Saturday and regular Sunday church services. At that time, there were approximately ten (10) volunteers who offered to help, but more people would be needed to carry out this plan. Of major concern was how the church would facilitate the meal preparation and the safety and wellbeing of the homeless in transporting them to and from the shelter and the church. It was decided to take a tour of the Safe Harbor facility to determine what we do.
We got to see firsthand the layout of the Facility located on South Matlack Street in the borough of West Chester (between Gay and West Market Streets). The shelter is designed to house homeless single men and women of Chester County, offering them temporary residence, meals and resources to help them mainstream back into society when they are ready to do so. There are two dining halls and separate residence floors. The women’s shelter, kitchen and dining hall (which has seating for 24) is located on the second floor and the men’s shelter, kitchen and dining hall (which has seating for 32) is located on the first floor. The women dine at 4:30pm and the men dine at 6:30pm. As a volunteer group, we would be able to serve both groups at their respective times. Safe Harbor suggests that servers who prepare food allow for 20 men and 20 women, although typically the average number of residents is 14 in each group. All food and beverages are brought in from the outside and kept warm in the shelter’s respective kitchens using warming trays. It is possible to also bring in crockpots filled with prepared food. There is refrigeration to keep cold foods chilled and large sinks for cleanup afterwards. The shelter kitchens have all the necessary flatware, dishes and glasses to facilitate a meal.
However, through the advice of the church council and the mission and outreach committee, it was decided it was prudent to work with an experienced food market that does catering and Wegmans of Downingtown was chosen to prepare the food orders based on the number of residents at that time. Through the generosity of Andy Mahard and church donors, these meals were picked up at Wegmans by a church member and dropped off at Safe Harbor at a designated time. The Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays are the dates where the church supplies the lunch meals to the residents as part of the plan to cover the lunch meal for this facility during those particular holidays. Since the onset of Covid, all foods are dropped off and received by a representative outside of the facility.
If you would like to support our pilgrimage to benefit Safe Harbor, you may give through our donation button on our webpage. Please designate it Advent Pilgrimage for Safe Harbor.
To learn more about Safe Harbor, you can visit their webpage: Safe Harbor of Chester County (safeharborofcc.org)