Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Area churches join forces to help homeless families:

As homelessness continues to plague the county, a few area churches are banding together to launch a network that would feed homeless families and put a roof over their heads.

Seven Manatee County churches hope to launch the Interfaith Hospitality Network this year, which would house homeless families while focusing on getting them back on their feet.

"These people are often invisible to others," said Bert Panganiban, a member of Lakewood Ranch's Harvest United Methodist, one of the churches involved. "That doesn't make less important their needs."

The network would be a part of the nationwide Family Promise organization, also designed to fight homelessness, and be titled Family Promise of Manatee County.

"The idea is to get these families on their feet as quickly as possible, then bring in another family," said Diana Shoemaker, who is the president of the Family Promise board of directors for Family Promise. "Our goal is to help families regain their independence."

Each church would host 14 people for one week at a time. Families would be fed, and a van would take children to day care or school, while adults would be driven to work. If unemployed, they would be taken to a day center at Central Christian Church in Bradenton, where a social worker would help them find a job.

Only homeless families would be selected for the program and would be referred by organizations such as the Salvation Army or the Community Coalition on Homelessness.

"They're expected to be looking for jobs and for work," said Shoemaker. "We're looking for families who are committed to getting back on their feet."

The selection process allows for a smaller chance that churches will not have to deal with housing drug addicts or alcoholics, Shoemaker said.

Churches that have committed to the program include Harvest United, Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, First Assembly of God, Palma Sola Presbyterian Church and Trinity United Methodist Church.

The group needs support from three other churches to launch the network, as well as the help of a social worker, a 15-person van and monetary donations.

To help fund the initiative, Harvest United is holding a fundraiser square dance at 6 p.m. Jan. 20. The event is free to the public.

"The more we have, the less somebody else has," said Kurt Fowler, a Harvest member who is hosting the square dance at his home at 1230 136th St. N.E. in Bradenton. "People are supposed to love and help one another. We need to take care of each other."

For more information on the square dance, call Fowler at (941) 748-4890.
Herald Staff Writer

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