South Kendall Christian Reformed Church in Miami, Fla., has developed a ministry of feeding high school students experiencing homelessness. The small congregation started feeding 120 teens in September 2017 following the destruction and displacement left behind by Hurricane Irma. Now the church is serving more than 170 teens each week.
Daniel Vander Woude, an elder at the church, noticed the need through his involvement in Youth for Christ and brought it to the attention of the congregation.
All 175 people in the congregation are involved in the ministry in some way: buying or making food, gathering donations from community businesses, sewing backpacks, or providing other needs. But the burden hasn’t rested on the congregation alone.
A one-time visitor to the church heard about the ministry and offered a donation of “leftovers.” “It was leftovers by the truckloads!” said Carmen Ramos, the deacon heading the initiative. The donation included blankets, toiletries, and nonperishable food items that were surplus after the closing of a nearby shelter by the American Red Cross. The visitor had been connected to the organization. Other businesses in the community have stepped in to donate as well.
A team of 10 to 15 dedicated volunteers from the congregation meets weekly to supply ready-made sandwiches and other portable food to the teens. The food is packaged in lunch bags along with a printed Scripture text. Volunteers are typically preparing food at the church on Monday mornings by 6 a.m. A teacher from a local public high school picks up the items to be delivered to a confidential room at the school where teens can pick up the lunches without stigma.
All volunteers guard the teens’ confidentiality fiercely. One woman sews backpacks so the students can carry the donated food items undetected.
As Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays followed soon after Hurricane Irma, the congregation prepared special community meals and were able to meet some families face to face. Yet many who attended did not readily speak to the volunteers.
Homelessness can be caused by various reasons, and the resulting emotions for teens are equally variant. Some teens are hesitant to talk to the volunteers for fear that their family would be split by agency interference. All are at risk of the dangers of homelessness such as exposure to drugs, human trafficking, and other abuses.
“You can’t imagine what these children are exposed to, being homeless,” Ramos said. “Human trafficking is a very real problem.” Ramos said that South Kendall CRC plans to expand the ministry to include toiletry items and counseling services.