Small Church Making Big Difference

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

Temperatures are once again flirting with zero and while most of us are happy to huddle at home and wait for the thaw, that's not an option for everyone.
A little church in Rockford is playing a big part in helping area homeless and there's a striking similarity between the church and its new residents.
"We've had about 25 people to actually come through but not stay and our congregation is about 25 people as well. So that is kinda cute isn't it?" says the co-pastor of First Christian Church, Barbara Heath.
The efforts of this small congregation are more than cute to the people streaming in for a hot meal and a warm bed. They're life-saving.
"I was watching the weather and they began to tell about the freezing conditions, that they were life-threatening and I immediately thought about all the homeless people in our city and so I said well, we're gonna open the church," says Pastor Heath.
Word spread quickly. The church has had about 18 people sleep over every night since they opened their doors last Sunday. They've also been overwhelmed with donations and yes, every member of the congregation has volunteered time at the shelter.
"They already feel like society has rejected them and so it's not just enough to provide a place of shelter, but it's very important to provide that love be the foundation of your shelter," says Pastor Heath.
Some residents are truly taking the individual attention and compassion they've found at the church to heart.
"It inspires me to try to get off the streets because me and my wife, we're talking about wanting to start a shelter like this," says resident Charles Dickinson.
Pastor Heath and her husband and co-pastor Alphonzo Heath were planning to keep their makeshift shelter open for just this week. But now that they've seen the need, they say they'll stay open as long as the weather stays dangerous.
As of 2005, there were close to 1,700 homeless living in Winnebago County. If you want to offer food, clothing or your time, head to First Christian Church at 325 Heath St. or contact Rockford's rescue mission.


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