Safe shelter and support
Hundreds of clothing and toiletry donations. 15,000 nights of shelter. More than 45,000 meals. This is what Christian Care provides each year to people experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness and substance abuse, transitioning out of the prison system, and veterans in our community.
Christian Care is a non-profit organization based in Rock Island, serving western Illinois and eastern Iowa. In 1916, founder Guy Rogers, established the Rock Island Mission providing a warm meal, living necessities, and shelter for men, women, and children. After 104 years, the organization is now known as Christian Care. This organization uses holistic and trauma-informed care environments to provide services which emphasize safety, choice, trust, collaboration, and empowerment. With Christian values at the heart of their operations, they help those in crisis and provide the tools necessary to achieve positive change.
Steve Gottcent, Christian Care’s community outreach coordinator, said that he values the way Christian Care listens to the stories of every person without judgment. Stereotypes frequently close doors and limit opportunities for those experiencing homelessness.
“Many people see someone experiencing homelessness on the side of the road and are quick to label them an addict, a criminal, a loser, or a handful of other stereotypes,” he said. “Homelessness, however, is not prejudiced in any way. It affects people of every age, race, gender, nationality, income level, political party, education level, sexual orientation.
While some stereotypes are true in certain circumstances, there are so many other stories that break your heart.” “Stories about medical conditions that limited employment and depleted bank accounts. Stories about abusive relationships in which the only escape was to be out on the street. Stories about addictions that are simply an attempt to deal with deep, emotional trauma from past wounds. Stories about how life threw someone a curveball that they just couldn’t handle, with disastrous results. Stereotypes and judgment frequently close doors and limit opportunities for people struggling with homelessness to take positive steps forward.”
Many of the resident and meal site guests also struggle with addiction and/or mental illness. In an effort to help with this, Christian Care partners with Rock Island County Council on Addictions, the Robert Young Center, and other providers. Through these partnerships, Christian Care hopes to lessen hurdles that can cause repeat homelessness.
Recently, the small nonprofit started a food pantry program called Food For Families. The purpose of this program is to ensure that all food donations not used at the meal site are getting to the people who need it. Due to the large number of food donations at unplanned times, there are times where food is unable to be used at a meal site. There are also instances when families need food at their homes or individuals are not able to make daily trips to meal sites. The Food For Families pantry ensures that little to no food goes to waste while continuing to feed the hungry. Food For Families runs on the last Thursday of the month and is open to the first 10 families to complete their paperwork at least two days in advance. When these families arrive between 2-4 p.m. on the last Thursday, bags of food are pre-packed for them based on the number of people needing to be fed.
The organizations outreach coordinator also said that funding is the biggest challenge the organization faces. In lieu of a steady stream of income, Christian Care relies heavily on contributions from the community, grants, and government funding.
One way to support Christian Care is volunteering. Spending time cooking and serving meals offers the opportunity to engage with people experiencing homelessness and listen to their stories. Other opportunities include serving at the front desk, in the clothing room, at Chapel services, and for special events. Hands-on engagement is important when trying to understand the key needs and challenges that others face, Steve said.
“Come volunteer! We have groups of people who come every month to participate in our meal site’s Bring & Serve program. They cook a meal and serve it to our residents, along with any hungry person who comes to our door,” he said. “The more frequently groups come to serve, the more they can interact with our guests, and the more stories they can hear. All of these help volunteers engage with people experiencing homelessness, understand some of the key needs and challenges they face, and help provide valuable services.”
Christian Care receives support from ELCA World Hunger. Any donations from midweek Lenten services or meals will be given to ELCA World Hunger. During the Lent season, St. Paul’s goal is to exceed $20,000 in donations. Through ELCA World Hunger’s support of Christian Care, they are fulfilling their mission to provide solutions and help get to the root causes of poverty and hunger. To learn more about Christian Care and how to support this organization, visit www.christiancareqc.org.