In January 2008, the Turlock Gospel Mission started serving nightly meals to local homeless and in-need families. Exactly four years later, TGM staff and supporters gathered to celebrate the over 45,591 meals served and prepare for the future of the mission.
What began as a few concerned community members looking for a way to help out the homeless who were seen every day taking shelter in parks and downtown storefronts has turned into a coordinated effort among 26 to 32 churches and dozens of volunteers to feed, house and provide support services to those suffering on the streets.
Along with the meals served seven nights a week, 365 days a year, TGM has been providing overnight shelter to women and children through a network of churches. Since the winter relief sheltering began, the mission has housed 201 individual women and children.
“The first couple of nights nobody showed up,” said TGM executive director Jeff Woods, remembering the early days of the mission. “The word was out that we’d lock the doors and beat people over the head with the Bible.”
Eventually, the word spread to the homeless community that despite its spiritual foundation the TGM is about comfort and service not conversion. Since those early days, the number of people served by TGM has steadily risen.
One of those winter relief guests is Diane Vasquez, who has been spending the past 14 nights at TGM with her four children ages 5, 7, 9 and 11. Vasquez said she has been homeless for the past seven months.
Sarah Schoening has been homeless for one year and said she appreciates the services at the Turlock Gospel Mission.
“I come back for the warmth, nice food and nice company,” Schoening said Monday night while putting together a puzzle with a TGM volunteer.
The TGM is now embarking on the next steps of its mission — providing daytime services for the homeless; and moving to a new campus on S. Broadway.
The Homeless Assistance Ministry will offer an alternative to the public parks and streets for those without a home. At the HAM — located at the former Youth Center, 1030 East Ave. — individuals will be able to attend Bible study, join recovery programs, connect with social services, locate housing, search for a job and write a resume, all while being in a safe environment.
Renovation is still underway for the new HAM and the opening date has not yet been set, but Woods said they are looking at a late January or early February opening.
Coming on the heels of the HAM opening is the TGM’s purchase of property at 437 S. Broadway. The property will eventually serve as a new headquarters for the mission, which has so far been housed at the First Baptist Church on W. Olive Avenue. Woods and the TGM board also plan on eventually having the property serve as an overnight shelter, as it falls in the homeless shelter zoning area the city was required to create under State Senate Bill 2, which mandates all cities create an area where shelters are allowed.
Before the zoning area was created in July 2011, shelters were either defined as non-permitted or required a Conditional Use Permit.
The TGM chose the property on S. Broadway, Woods said, so that it could be near existing homeless service providers helping to create a campus concept in recovery and support.
All of these efforts would not be possible, Woods said, without the support of the mission’s volunteers.
Two of those volunteers — Lois Wilson and Amanda Williams — were present at Saturday’s meeting to hear about the future endeavors of TGM.
Wilson has been helping with the weekly meal program, served at rotating churches in town, for about a year now. She got started in the mission after reading a book about how Jesus related to marginalized people.
“It struck me,” Wilson said. “I just realized that was an aspect of my personal faith that was lacking.”
When she first started volunteering seven months ago, Williams was worried she might say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing.
“I look at homeless people so differently now,” she said. “It changes your whole outlook.”
The homeless who come to the TGM are a mix of people, each with their own situation and struggles, said both Wilson and Williams. Some are just temporarily in a financial bind and will be able to find a way out. Others have to deal with addiction, or have emotional or developmental disabilities that make finding a job and home difficult.
“There are people who come every single night and hear the message every single night, but are stuck in their ways. But you know they’re taking something away,” Williams said. “It creates a sliver of hope in most of these people. What’s most rewarding is being a part of that.”
The TGM is looking for more volunteers and supporters. To volunteer with the nightly meal and winter relief ministry or to help with the Homeless Assistance Ministry during the day, call 668-9846.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.