Saturday’s Outreach Tri-Cities Ministry event was intended to make the coming months a little less miserable for Johnson City’s homeless and low-income populations.
Under the direction of 22-year-old Kaleb Stone, more than 400 people gathered around the park’s pavilion and courtyard as 40 boxes of coats, sweaters, blankets, undergarments and other clothing items were given out at the second annual faith-based Outreach Tri-Cities Christmas in the Park.
And that wasn’t all.
Those who attended were offered free haircuts, food bags, health care advice, tents, tarps and school supplies. But most importantly, the homeless among them were provided information on where to find refuge when temperatures begin dipping below freezing.
Outreach Tri-Cities is a collaborative effort, consisting of dozens of churches, organizations and businesses. The group’s objective is to share “the hope and love of Jesus Christ,” Stone said. The Bible’s Christmas story was also read in the courtyard of Founders Park.
“Really, our main goal is to see our city come together to help and connect these lives that actually matter because we realize a lot of these people are being overlooked. A lot of these people have needs that have to be met, and nobody is able to help them because nobody notices it,” said Stone, the managing director of Outreach Tri-Cities.
“So we’re trying to get the community together to realize there are issues that need to be resolved, and we’re trying to be the first step to getting there.”
This year, Outreach Tri-Cities bought 500 solar-heated sleeping bags and handed all of them out.
Randy Scalf, who attends Word Fellowship in Gray and volunteered at Saturday’s event, said he believes the homeless population in Johnson City is larger now than it’s ever been. Volunteers counted 204 homeless people in Washington County, on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25, according to the 2017 Point-inTime homeless count.
“When it gets below freezing, they need to try to get in somewhere, and of course, you’ve got the Haven of Mercy on Millard Street and you’ve got the Salvation Army,” Scalf said. “I haven’t heard about any this year, but in previous years, there have been (homeless) who’ve frozen to death.”
Stone said if he could distill his thoughts on Saturday’s event into one word, it would be “awe.”
“It’s just awesome,” he said. “What’s crazy about it is it’s not them who are getting the blessing, it’s us getting the blessing, the leaders and churches. It does something to us, and personally to me. It turns me upside down and breaks my heart to see this stuff taking place.”
Stone said his motivation to help the less fortunate began a few years ago when a street minister, Robert Williams, invited him to go see one of the local homeless camps.
“We were going under a bridge where a (homeless) campsite was, and I saw people shooting needles in themselves. I said, ‘I can’t stand seeing this. We’ve got to make a difference. We’ve got to help these people. There’s a better life.’ So it got on my heart,” Stone said.
“I pushed off the calling for year until I decided I have to do it. God kept urging me, saying ‘You’ve got to. You’ve got to.’ I finally stepped out in faith. God has just blessed my life. Seeing this, it just encourages me.”
Next year, Outreach Tri-Cities is planning a similar event, and Stone said any organization interested is invited to participate.
The churches and organizations who made Saturday’s event possible include: Living Under Christ Ministry, Boones Creek Christian Church, Central Baptist Church, Christ Fellowship Church, Engage Tri-Cities, First Presbyterian Church, Fordtown Baptist Church, Grace Meadows Church, Harrison Christian Church, Highlands Fellowship Church, Gideons International, Liberty Freewill Baptist Church and Word Fellowship.