Story by Ricardo Bacchus/LaTasha Hewitt
An artic blast of air moved through much of the U.S. this week, dropping temperatures below 0° with the wind chill factor. To help reduce hypothermia deaths in the midst of the freezing, cold weather, a local community partner Tawanda Green contacted Allegheny East Conference’s Mt. Olivet church in Camden, N.J., to inquire if they had a contact number for a local Baptist church. Mt. Olivet member Nyzia Easterling fielded the call and told Green she would ask her pastor to see if the church could be of assistance. Colby Matlock, pastor of Mt. Olivet, agreed to it and the church immediately became a Code Blue winter station.
“Being an active community leader, it was my privilege to offer to ask my pastor to open our gates to the homeless,” says Easterling.
Mt. Olivet housed approximately 20 homeless individuals, and another 30 at a different site. Through social media, word quickly got out and church and community members dropped off food, blankets and water. Some emptied their cabinets and garages and brought anything they could find to provide for those needing shelter from the extreme cold.
“My husband and I started going through our closet for coats, blankets, gloves, anything warm. We then made a stop to the supermarket and got water,” says Lorene Brown-Watkins, Mt. Olivet Relationship Ministries leader. “I started texting my Facebook friends and other colleagues to bring additional items to the church.”
Volunteer and member Mike Williams states, “We were just grateful to be able to serve and meet folks at their needs with no strings attached. That's what the gospel is all about. To help people, and let them see God through you.”
Some Mt. Olivet members, with the assistance of the police department, picked up homeless people and brought them back to the church. Volunteers prayed for some individuals who declined their invitation, and, instead, chose to sleep outside.
“This kinda stuff really touches my heart because it could be anyone of us in this situation. Only importance is saving lives getting them in a warm place with something to eat,” says Brown-Watkins.
Easterling adds, “Community love is real. It’s such a blessing to be a blessing.”