This holiday season marks the 13th year that a church in Bismarck has encouraged members of its congregation to donate half of their Christmas gift budget to support homeless services in the Bismarck-Mandan area.
Legacy United Methodist’s goal of donating $ 40,000 comes at a time when organizations working with the homeless describe a multitude of needs as they seek to build a permanent shelter in Bismarck, improve services and address the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The church calls its initiative “Half Christmas”. Reverend Brandon Vetter said it has grown over the years and is a hit with families.
“They appreciate having a different focus on Christmas,” he said. “They have this tool to remind themselves and their children that Christmas is not everything for them.”
Legacy modeled Half-a-Christmas after a similar effort started by an Ohio pastor. When Vetter’s predecessor first announced the initiative to Legacy, he told the congregation he hoped to raise an ambitious $ 25,000 in the first year.
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“The ushers in the back were like, ‘Did he hit his head? “” Vetter recalls.
Church members rose to the challenge by donating $ 27,000.
“It’s been a tradition ever since,” Vetter said.
Needs of the homeless
This year’s donations will go to Missouri Slope Areawide United Way and the Missouri Valley Coalition for Homeless People.
United Way is working on building a permanent shelter for the homeless through a partnership with CommunityWorks.
The space he now uses in southern Bismarck is small and a temporary solution, said executive director Jena Gullo. The facility houses 50 to 55 people per night and does not allow adequate social distancing amid the pandemic, she said. United Way began operating the site after the city’s previous refuge, the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House, closed in 2017.
Many people served by United Way have health conditions that put them at high risk for complications from COVID-19. Some are staying in hotels, where they don’t have 24/7 access to the types of assistance they might need, Gullo said.
For example, a social worker recently visited a hotel room where a woman was looking after her grandchild. The worker realized that the woman was in the process of drug withdrawal. United Way brought her and the child back to the shelter, the best option given the circumstances, even if the facility is not geared towards families, Gullo said.
United Way aims to raise $ 3.6 million for a new shelter that can offer a wider range of services.
“When people come in we want to help restore their dignity, give them that sense of hope and the tools they need to be independent again,” said Gullo. “People come to us as their last option. “
The Bismarck-Mandan community is great for buying Christmas gifts to give to families in need during the holiday season, said Mark Heinert, president of the Missouri Valley Coalition for Homeless People. Meanwhile, the organizations that make up the coalition and that provide services to some of the same people who receive these gifts still have expenses to pay.
“Simple things like (the Legacy donation) can help pay the electricity bill at the homeless shelter,” Heinert said.
Winter poses challenges, as those served at the shelter might be less willing to walk through the freezing cold to a soup kitchen for a meal, Gullo said. Their food options aren’t great at the shelter, where only one burner works on the stovetop.
Vetter said Half-a-Christmas’s donation is unconditional. Legacy trusts organizations to use it however they see fit.
It has been helpful for the coalition, said Heinert. Last year, the funds the coalition received were used to develop a statewide homelessness management database, needed to bring federal dollars to support services in Dakota. North.
The database helps guide organizations so they know which populations need more help, such as ex-combatants, young people, families or those facing domestic violence or mental health issues, Heinert said.
The coalition’s ability to shoulder a larger share of the cost of this database meant that individual organizations serving the homeless did not need to spend as much money on it.
“It kept dollars in direct care,” he said.
Heinert and Gullo’s gratitude to Legacy was evident when the two met Vetter one recent morning.
“Thanks for starting over,” Gullo told Vetter. “It’s a lifeline.”
Contact Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or [email protected]