St Mark UMC; Servant UMC; and FUMC, Austin recently participated in the Cold Shelter Program in Austin. Front Steps and Austin Area Interreligious Ministries (AAIM) developed the Cold Weather Shelter Program several years ago. They coordinate local churches and community volunteers to provide shelter in church facilities on nights when the temperature drops to freezing.
Participation in this program began by a heartfelt statement from a member several years ago on a cold wintery night. She admonished the church for a huge church facility that sits empty at night, and that there are people sleeping out in the cold. St. Mark UMC took her words to heart and began searching on how they could help. The church founded the Cold Shelter Program.
Participating churches provide shelter for up to 25 men on Monday and Tuesday nights when the predicted overnight low is expected to be 35 degrees and wet or 32 degrees and dry.
Volunteers provide food and host overnight for Freeze Nights. They also provide conversation and prayers to our guests as well as sleeping mats and a warm, safe place to sleep.
“This past New Year’s Night and the following night, we opened our facility as a shelter. The gentlemen arrived about 7:00, and were met with enthusiasm by our evening hosts. They were then fed hot delicious meals with lots of desserts. No one went away hungry,” said Rev. JD Herrera.
“My heart is full as First UMC provides a warm place for 21 women experiencing homelessness to sleep tonight. One woman shared with us that she hasn’t slept in 4 days because of how cold it’s been. She’s sound asleep right now,” said FUMC, Austin Deacon Rev. Cathy Stone. “I’ve been blessed to have a few of them share parts of their story with me and we’ve prayed together. Many different journeys, many different struggles, many different blessings. Thankful our paths have crossed on this cold winters night."
Evening hosts spent time visiting with guests and making sure that they were comfortable. For those that didn’t have blankets, hosts found some for them.
Some of the comments from the evenings:
“We appreciate being treated with respect and dignity”
“We can’t believe how nice you all are”
“It is St Mark’s belief that our Church Members receive the greater blessing on these nights. We are so thankful for all that helped with this event: from preparing food, providing supplies, to serving as hosts to help provide a place of warmth for our guests,” said Herrera. “This is how we show others that we are the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Written by St. Mark UMC Pastor Rev. JD Herrera