Volunteers give tips for homeless ministry


Consistency key to long-term relationships

By Myra Holmes


Every Saturday, a team of volunteers from Shorelife Community Church, a small USMB congregation in Capitola, Calif., gathers in the church kitchen to make a five-star feast, then loads it up and takes to the nearby community of Aptos, where they serve about 30 homeless men and women. They call the outreach Manna Ministries, to highlight God’s provision of food. 

Over six years of Saturdays spent serving and building relationships with the homeless, the Manna Ministries volunteers have learned a thing or two. They offer these pointers to congregations and individuals interested in reaching out to the homeless in their communities:

Start somewhere. It might be as simple as offering a cup of coffee. “Even if you’re not big and mighty, you can still do good works,” volunteer Paul Kessler says.

Gather a team. Volunteer Jackie Lee says the other volunteers make the ministry enjoyable for her. “The team keeps me going,” she says.  All pitch in to make Saturdays flow smoothly, and they even have fun while doing it.

In addition, while the volunteers say their guests are always respectful and they’ve never felt unsafe, they note the common-sense wisdom of staying in a group rather than going it alone.

Have the right heart. “Remember, this ministry is not about us; it’s about those we’re serving,” Shorelife Pastor Trevor Lee says. If the motivation is wrong, don’t start, he warns. 

Volunteer Nancy Eaton adds that when the desire comes from God, the service is not a sacrifice but “all joy.”

Keep promises. Starting something, then quitting when it gets difficult can do more harm than good. Trust is hard to re-build once broken, so it’s important to be consistent, rain or shine. The Manna volunteers each say this ministry has become an essential part of their lives. As volunteer Judy Willis says, “I hate to miss on Saturdays. I just hate it. I feel like these guys need us.”

Prepare to be inconvenienced. “The extra mile is nearly always required,” Trevor Lee says.

Know local laws and limits. The Manna team originally served meals in a public park, but were eventually told to stop because of rules regarding preparing and serving food in a public place.

Discern true needs carefully. Since addictions are often a pull for those who are homeless, never give cash, the volunteers say. Listen carefully to discern the true need, then work to meet that need. For example, if a homeless acquaintance asks for gas to fuel the car he lives in, fill the tank.

Build relationships. The volunteers describe the homeless men and women they serve as friends, brothers and sisters, people they’ve come to love deeply. They know them by name, know their stories and struggles. For volunteer Dennis Alameda, getting to know them has shattered stereotypes. “They’re just like me and you,” he says.

Photo: Trevor and Jackie Lee, pastoral couple at Shorelife Community Church, with the Manna Ministries van. Photo by Neil Simmons Photography, Inc


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