Posts Tagged ‘shelter for homeless’

by Steve Blanchard

Duane Merrill was a mainstay in Richmond’s First Baptist Church’s Community Missions ministry for many years. We first met Duane when he came to FBC as a participant in Community Missions. He had experienced homelessness over the years and came to FBC to receive a hot meal at Grace Fellowship on Thursday nights and to take showers on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Duane quickly became much more than just a participant; he became part of our FBC family through his willingness to volunteer with the Compassion Ministry even while participating in the programs. He was a quiet individual but was always on the lookout for ways to help others. He even served as the custodian for the shower ministry.

In the winter of 2017, during a long period of frigid weather accompanied by snow, Duane awoke one morning in his tent by the James River and found that he was suffering from extreme frostbite, which resulted in the amputation of both of his legs below the knees. After extensive hospitalization and therapy, Duane received prosthetic legs and was trying to adjust to his new way of living. Several members of the church helped Duane in a variety of ways, however, the emotional struggles from past and present issues overcame Duane, and he passed away on July 16, 2018.

Duane's DenDuane had become so much more than just a participant in the programs offered through the Compassion Ministry so it was in the latter part of November 2018 that Charlie Ball, Bonnie Wilmoth, and I began to think of a way we could help other homeless individuals during extreme frigid weather so that Duane’s initial situation might not be repeated. The idea of establishing an emergency shelter to help others in this particular crisis began to take hold. As the idea developed, we decided to name the project Duane’s Den to recognize Duane’s deep commitment to the Compassion Ministry. On Wednesday, January 30, Duane’s Den opened unexpectedly during a particularly frigid evening. The first night seven people stayed in the shelter as we only began announcing it that day. However, the next evening it housed twenty-seven.

The shelter will function much like the CARITAS shelter that FBC operated for years in July and November where we, as a partner church, housed and fed anywhere from 35-110 people at a time for one week. Duane’s Den will operate slightly differently in that we will not offer meals or showers except during extended stays. It will simply be a safe, warm place for the homeless to find shelter when the temperature or wind chill drops below 15 degrees, or in the event of a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado or severe snowstorm. The shelter will open at 6:00 p.m. and will close the following morning at 7:00 a.m. Hours may be extended in the case of a natural disaster or snowstorm. The shelter has a capacity of 50 individuals.

Duane’s Den, established in Duane Merrill’s memory, honors the life of a quiet, gentle, compassionate man who became part of our FBC family.

Duane Merrill


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Compiled from reports by FBC CARITAS coordinators Susan Bethel and Vicky Nicholau. Photos by Win Grant.

The expectations for CARITAS (Congregations Around Richmond Involved To Assure Shelter) are that people will be fed, will have a warm and safe place to shower and sleep, and will see football games on Thanksgiving Day. We hope they will worship with the rest of the FBC family, and we pray that some will find answers to the searchings of their souls.

CARITAS guests

Guests enjoy Thanksgiving feast.

But much more happens, things more personal and specific than we expect or know to give thanks for.

Food is an important part of what happens during CARITAS week. More than 200 meals were served – every day, with twice that on Thanksgiving. But there was often some extra food, and that was shared with another facility serving guests through CARITAS, with people in Monroe Park and in the VCU Emergency Room.

CARITAS guests

FBC volunteers serve dinner.

We know that volunteers prepare and serve this food, but we don’t know the range of ages involved. Seven-year-old Jack was one volunteer. He was so excited about serving at CARITAS that he spent the entire week collecting change from friends so he could present it on Thanksgiving. In addition, he brought chewing gum to share with all the men.

CARITAS guests

Game time on TV.

Watching football on a big screen is a Thanksgiving Day tradition for CARITAS. But equally special is having One Accord give a concert just for them, playing bingo with everyone winning a prize, and having Richmond Tech Center provide haircuts.

Part of what makes the week important in the lives of these men is the connections they have with the FBC family. When the men arrived, they were given a toiletry bag put together and handed out by the Girls in Action (Wednesday night missions group). Walter Morton led a Bible study and Dr. Terry Whipple talked with the men about how to stay healthy on the streets.

CARITAS guestBut the connections reach beyond FBC. When Susan Bethel  talked about CARITAS at work, some of her colleagues baked cookies to share. “They ask me every year what they can do, and when the men see homemade treats, they feel quite special.”

And then there is laundry – 80 men, 80 bags of laundry. Most of it is done by FBC members, but the new owner of a Robinson Street laundromat asked if he could help in any way. At the end of the week there were several bags of dirty clothes left, which he laundered at no charge.

Vicky Nicholau found the prayer requests especially moving. “Each evening, the guys were asked if they had any prayer requests and if so, to write them on a card and we would make sure to give them to church members to pray for them.” Not surprisingly, many requested prayers for health and help in finding jobs and apartments. But just as many prayers were for the needs of their families and friends. There were also prayers of thanks for having been saved and of desire to grow stronger in God.

There were so many little things that were done to make these men feel comfortable, loved, happy, and welcome. The little things are what add up to be a blessing. From gum to haircuts, concert to football game, clean clothes to prayers, our CARITAS guests were blessed. Being a part of making that happen is our blessing.

Find more information about CARITAS at their website.

In 2010, VCU student Audra Shreve produced a video report on CARITAS. See it here:

Susan BethelSusan Bethel (left) and Vicky Nicholau, along with Charlie Ball, serve as coordinators of FBC’s CARITAS involvement.

Vicky Nicholau

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