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handshakes turn into hugs

When it gets cold in Northern Kentucky it gets really cold! Since January 1st the highest temperature in Burlington was 26 degrees, at one point the low dropped to a dangerous -7. While many people were escaping the cold and planning their New Year's Resolutions, a group of volunteers here at First Church prepared to host 12 men from the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky

Since 2014, First Church has opened the doors of her Student Building to provide relief to an overcrowded homeless shelter. When the temperatures drop this low, the shelter, that can accommodate around 50 men and women, becomes packed with 80-100 guests. The mindset behind First Church’s Homeless Ministry is that by welcoming 12 men into the Student Building, 12 beds are opened up for additional guests at the shelter. 

The First Church Homeless Ministry has been thriving for 4 years and does far more than just provide a place for our guests to sleep. This past week over 90 volunteers provided 12 new coats, 10 meals, 10 bus rides, 8 haircuts and beard trims, food for packed lunches, many pairs of shoes and boots, numerous cups of coffee, countless games of ping-pong and billiards, UK game viewing companionship, dinner hospitality, overnight hospitality, breakfast hospitality and friendship.

A typical serving session is started when the temperature is forecasted to drop below 15 degrees. An email is sent out with a sign up form attached and the church simply becomes "the church." Anything from a tube of chapstick to a bag of bagels are included on the list and donations quickly start piling up in the building. At 5:00pm one of the church busses are driven to Covington to pick up 12 men. The men are brought back to the Burlington Campus Student Building which has multiple classrooms that are temporally transformed into private bedrooms just for the guests. The family that volunteered to provide dinner for the evening has it prepared and ready as the guys arrive. After dinner some of the men spend time alone in their room where they enjoy privacy, something that isn't always available at the shelter. Others will enjoy time in the common area with each other as well as with volunteers that spend the evening playing cards, board games or simply lending an ear to listen. As the night winds down the men spend the night in their rooms and just incase they need anything during the night there are two church volunteers staying inside the "host room." The men also enjoy unlimited hot showers without a wait in line, something that is normally hard to come by. As morning arrives so do more volunteers, this time with breakfast and a bunch of fresh coffee! With warm bodies and full stomachs the men are transported back to the shelter in Covington with a packed lunch in hand. Meanwhile the church is prepared to do it all over again that evening. A typical session is 3-4 days or until the weather breaks. During a winter season the team usually hosts 4-5 sessions. Typically the men that climb on the bus are the same for every session throughout the winter season.  Because of that we see friendships grow, jokes are told, names are remembered and handshakes turn into hugs.    

As a church we believe that God has given us all of our resources, including our building. With having three wonderful buildings in two cities with ample space, one important goal for First Church is to be able to share our blessings with the community. Our Homeless Ministry Leader, Kari Mulderink describes the heart of the ministry perfectly when she says. “God has certainly blessed First Church with many things for us to enjoy, but its our responsibility to make sure that its not just us that enjoy those gifts." 

This past week one of the guests told us “It is just so pleasant here that I want to stay awake all night.”  A simple reminder that God has us doing the right thing. 

Since 2014 the ministry has hosted over 50 men over approximately 45 nights. Each year more volunteers have joined the team and stronger friendships were created with the guests. Often, the conversations at dinner include memories about men that have stayed over the years. On a few occasions the friendships that are created here lasts longer than the winter months. Some have even included visits in some of the men’s new apartments. 

The Homeless Ministry has various serving opportunities throughout the year and they host men overnight in Burlington when the temperature drops below 15 degrees. For more information or to sign up to volunteer contact our Homeless Ministry Leader Kari Mulderink by clicking HERE.