Outside the Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County on Monday morning, I watched the crowd of “guests” grow larger as it got closer to noon.
Inside the dining hall, the cook and volunteers were setting up the cafeteria-style severing area with large batches of steaming red beans and rice, salad and cornbread.
These are not unusual scenes as the mission serves three nutritious meals a day, 365 days a year, to homeless individuals and others who are hungry — some of them hurting and feeling hopeless.
In fact, last year the mission served 217,172 meals, and offering food is just one aspect of assistance to the homeless that Union Gospel Mission has been providing in our community for 125 years.
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President and Chief Executive Officer Don Shisler, who has been on the scene for 20 years, stood in the serene chapel and reflected on the mission’s success over the years in helping to change lives.
“It’s not me,” he said. “We have God’s favor here. We seek his wisdom in everything we do. We just serve.”
In addition to running an emergency shelter for single men, the mission also has a center to serve single women, a family facility for mothers with children and a hall for senior women.
Construction has just begun on the new $8.2 million Scott Walker Women and Families Services Building, providing even more space for single women and single women with children, as well as rooms where husbands and wives can stay together with their children.
This facility is sorely needed because Shisler said the agency receives calls from about 200 women every month who have to be turned away for lack of space.
In 2013, UGM provided services for 3,598 homeless individuals, including shelter for 163 boys and girls, tutoring for 63 resident school-aged children, parenting classes for 95 men and women, and life skills classes for 418 individuals.
More than 30 families moved from being homeless to becoming independent with stable employment and housing last year, Shisler said.
The agency couldn’t operate without the help of a lot of people. Businesses, local foundations and individuals have pledged financial support for the new women and families center, and more than 1,200 volunteers each year save the mission more than $639,000 in staff costs.
And, of course, the faith community is heavily involved. There are more than 100 trained chaplains assisting in the “spiritual guidance.”
In announcing a new fundraising program to celebrate the 125th anniversary, Shisler said: “Getting people off the streets and into the mission means that we are helping each client take ‘a step toward home.’ Through programs which give both life and work skills, Bible study that changes life and transitional help, we are striving to end homelessness one person at a time.”
During the Easter season — a “special season of renewal and redemption” — UGM is hoping the community will join in its special anniversary celebration by helping it raise $1,000 for each of the 125 years it has been in existence, or a total of $125,000.
The “125 Easter Offering — A Step Toward Home” campaign is the first of its kind for the mission, and it offers a unique way for us to show our appreciation for an agency that has done so much good work for so long.
Give what you can. It might help to know that $25 will provide five cases of bottled water, 14 bus passes or two boxes of laundry detergent; $50 would pay for one week of meals for a homeless person, or school supplies for three children; $75 equals six flu shots or 30 sack lunches; $100 will buy 20 Bibles and $125 provides five nights of shelter and food for one “guest” on the street.
To donate, go to ugm-tc.org/donate/.