On November 10th, 2012, Brunswick County Homeless Coalition (BCHC) joined forces with other groups throughout the nation to raise awareness of those who are hungry and homeless. BCHC sponsored the First Annual Hunger and Homeless Banquet at Seaside Methodist Church, Sunset Beach. A soup and water lunch was served to 108 participants representing faith-based ministries,churches, nonprofit organizations, and concerned citizens. Rita Canfield opened the day with a prayer. A fact sheet shared with the attendees reported that in Brunswick County 10,000 people were living in extreme poverty, and 23,593 families sought assistance from food pantries. During the 2011-2012 school year, 61% of the students in Brunswick County Public Schools received free or reduced lunches. From January through the end of June 2012, Brunswick County StreetReach provided emergency shelter for 89 people and Good Shepherd Center in Wilmington provided emergency shelter for an additional 64 people living in Brunswick County.
Guest speakers enlightened us. Fran Salone-Pelletier, religion columnist for the Brunswick Beacon, was obviously moved when she spoke on her reflection of the book of the Hebrew prophet, Amos, as it applied to the problem of hunger and homelessness in Brunswick County. Here are a few excerpts from her talk. “Do I grieve over the ruin of my brothers and sisters who have nothing but the clothes on their backs? I have never known the sorrow of being the object of disgust or the subject of judgment based on my inability to declare an address. I have never known what it is like to have people either stare at me because I am poorly clothed and dirty.” At the conclusion of her talk, Fran reminded everyone, “If one person remains homeless, all of us are homeless. That’s the price we pay. It’s the cost of living as God’s people. It’s what happens when we respond to the call, Come follow me.” Simone Weil states, “Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”
Joyce Beatty, Student Support Services Brunswick School System, presented the federal legislation that supports children in the educational setting who have been classified as homeless. McKinney Vento allows schools to identify these children while making sure they are not singled out and treated differently in any way. Social workers connect schools with community resources for families who lack a regular nighttime residence, live with another family, live in a hotel or motel, o r live in a campsite, bus, or park. Each of the schools in Brunswick County has a liaison in place to assist with identification and support.
Donna Phelps of Brunswick StreetReach, Inc. shared information about the interfaith night shelter program. Currently night shelters are operational during the coldest months of the year: November, December, January, and February. Sixteen churches partner with them to support the host sites. She discussed the rules guests of the shelter must follow and the agreement to comply they must sign. Anyone found in violation of the rules is asked to leave the site. A sample of the cots and coverings used was displayed. Volunteers assisting with the night shelter program received training and have opportunities to supply food and needed supplies, and to assist at the shelters.
Poems and prayers written by the homeless and for the homeless were read by Barbara Serafin. The life journey of a few homeless people was shared and the support given by volunteere and the resources available in Brunswick County were identified. A person leaving the homeless scene and becoming productive and independent again, encouraged those present to be sensitive and supportive to those trying to end homelessness. A prayer written by someone who was once homeless reads: “Lord, help my brothers/ I do not know their names/ people call them homeless./ Help them to know their worth,/ and live an abundant life.”
Brent Tyndall, musician and songwriter, played the keyboard and sang songs giving the participants a time for reflection. At the end of the program the participants were invited to visit the educational displays and learn about the resources available in Brunswick County. There was time for fellowship and exploring volunteer opportunities.
The written and verbal feedback BCHC received about the program was extremely positive and most comments addressed the amount of new knowledge gained and the opportunity for fellowship. BCHC, together with their partners, looks forward to continuing to serve as an advocate for the homeless and to increase awareness of issues concerning poverty in Brunswick County.