On Friday, Jan. 4, volunteers shuffle in and out of the St. Boniface Episcopal Church kitchen to prepare a meal for the homeless families staying at the church through Family Promise. Charlotte Simpson, a volunteer at St. Boniface, has prepared a smoked-turkey, vegetable noodle soup, hot rolls, salad and chocolate-chip cookies for the families tonight. Her husband, Bob, helps her set up and carry in the meal.
“I enjoy cooking, anyway, and it helps someone in need,” says Simpson.
St. Boniface hosts about 15 families a year through Family Promise, a non-profit organization. It hosts families four times a year, and in January it hosted two families. Volunteers take turns cooking meals during the week the church hosts the families.
“This program is great because it works,” says Family Promise coordinator for St. Boniface David Mouatt. “I get people who went through the program and are now successful, saying hello and thanking me at the grocery store.”
Family Promise Inc. of Sarasota is a non-profit organization that provides a transitional support system designed to help homeless families get back on their feet.
“No place is absent of this problem. It’s everywhere — it’s just not real visible to most people,” Family Promise Network Manager Wendy Fitton says. “I think a lot of people, when they hear the word homeless, they think of the dirty side-of-the-road, sign-holding, possibly mentally ill, alcoholic-type-of-person. There are just a lot of families you would never know by looking at them that are homeless.”
Family Promise, a national program, has an 85% success rate in Sarasota. The organization provides case management, counseling, financial advice, shelter, meals, transportation and basic needs. During the last two years, church volunteers have provided 11,332 meals and 5,155 bed nights to 75 individuals through Family Promise.
“Families save up their money in the 90-day period they are with us so that they can be on their feet when they get out,” says Program Assistant Camille Chapman.
Each week the families move to a new church, where volunteers provide food and accommodations. Families who are in the program must meet a certain criteria to participate.
Each morning volunteers serve the families meals and then the family heads to the Family Promise headquarters, where they are assisted in finding jobs and helped with case management. Parents sometimes find jobs through networking with volunteers. There are 250 to 300 volunteers between all of the churches in Sarasota.
“Volunteers see who they are helping, so it is personal,” says Fitton.
Classrooms at St. Boniface have been turned into bedrooms complete with beds and bedding, and there are bathroom and shower facilities.
One volunteer always stays the night in their own meeting-room-turned-bedroom, in case the families need anything. Michael Walker volunteered earlier this month.
“It seemed like a nice way to help people.” Walker says. “It was a chance to give back.”
Volunteers do more than just prepare meals and stay the night; they interact with the parents and the children to boost their confidence.
“Some of these families come to us after having lived in their cars for three weeks,” Mouatt says. “Can you imagine living in a car for three weeks with two children?” During the week of the families’ stay, volunteers work about 200 hours. St. Boniface has been housing families through Family Promise for four years now.
“Without volunteers, we would not be able to run the program,” said Mouatt.
Family Promise has no government funding and accepts donations. To donate, please contact its office at 952-1800 or visit familypromisesarasota.com.