“What if one opportunity could change your life? This quote from the website of the Spartanburg Opportunity Center encompasses the spirit and heart of the ministry that was established just over a year ago. Responding to the need for additional service to the homeless population, United Way of the Piedmont, Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network (SPIHN) and Catholic Charities of South Carolina came alongside the City of Spartanburg to provide help in a unique way.
The day center pilot program opened in August of 2019 in the Northwest Community Center on Saxon Avenue. It currently serves as a gathering place where those living on the street can have their basic needs met. Open from 8:45 AM to 11:00 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it serves as a place where homeless and disadvantaged clients can take showers, receive clothes, use computers to research jobs and housing, meet with SPIHN case management staff, charge phones and receive mail. In addition, the center offers secure plastic bins for clients’ personal belongings so that clients do not have to carry their things throughout the day. As the Northwest Community Center activities transition to the new Dr. T.K. Gregg Center, there will be room to have an on-site laundry at the center’s current building.
Volunteers are crucial to the running of so many services in one place. Several Church at The Mill members have been stepping up even in this time of the pandemic. Emily Cohan, a member since 2009 and a long-time volunteer with Mobile Meals, has worked at the center since May/June 2020. She works in the food area on Wednesdays, giving out donated bread, bagels, pastries, fresh fruit, coffee and water during the morning sessions, and talking to the people the center serves.
When asked about her experiences there, Emily said, “Working here has really opened my eyes. I was pretty naïve and protected. [There is] such a wide variety of people who are homeless. There are a lot of young people in their 20’s and 30’s. I get a lot of joy from serving. I really feel that it’s one of my spiritual gifts.”
Delphine James has been volunteering at the center since March/April of 2020, providing assistance at the food tables three days a week. She began by making sandwiches at home for the clients, by purchasing sandwich supplies and later being reimbursed by the church. That has changed as donors have come forward to provide funds for on-site food. Delphine also assembles take-away bags for those needing a little extra and sorts and folds donated clothing. In spending time with the clients and staff, she has identified the additional need for tutoring in reading and writing, a service she hopes will be included in the future.
Delphine said, “It’s a blessing to see people getting help when they need it. We all can be in the same situation at any given time. I am one of six siblings who were raised in the projects of a small steel mill town in Ohio. It was rough. Even though I am now retired after 46 years of working, it gets rather boring sitting around the house reading and working jigsaw puzzles.
She also explained how she became involved. She said, “When the pandemic began, I started looking for ways to give back to the community. Church at The Mill sends out weekly newsletters which list community projects. I signed up, and I am so glad I did!”
Julia Hall, a 19-year member of Church at The Mill is involved in a variety of service opportunities. On a couple of her days off, she volunteered at the shower station at the center by handing out towels, soap and other supplies. Julia said that the experience was an eye-opener and summed it up by saying, “The reason it is important to support the work either through giving of time or money is that the participants have nothing permanent in their life…just a few items in a backpack. If we can show God’s love with a clean shower, some clean clothes and a little food for their stomach, maybe they would want to listen and see how our lives are different…having hope in a lasting relationship with God the Father whose love is permanent and never changes.”
For more information, please visit spopcenter.org
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