Earlier this winter the Lebanon Church opened its education center for the second year of sheltering those needing a warm place to stay.
In November 2020 Sue Watson, the director for the Laclede County Salvation Army, appeared on local television explaining a need for a facility to house homeless individuals when weather was cold.
“In the television interview I told them that [the Salvation Army] had put a lot of [homeless individuals] in motels in the past, but we could not do it anymore because of lack of finances,” Watson said.
Marty Resz, a member of the Bolivar Church at the time, saw the interview and felt impressed to contact the Lebanon Church and suggest the church use their education center to help the homeless.
The church members discussed this possibility and invited Watson to tour the facility. Upon inspection, Watson decided the building was a perfect fit. The church then agreed to provide the space to help those in need of shelter.
However, due to its membership size, the Lebanon Church knew it was unable to run the operation alone. Craig Wiles, pastor for the Lebanon Church, called a meeting with several community leaders to discuss how the center could operate.
A steering committee was formed and included representatives from five different organizations: L-LIFE Food Pantry, Laclede County Salvation Army, Free Store Ministry, White Oak Pond Presbyterian Church and the Lebanon Church.
The committee organized a plan of action and on Jan. 11, 2021, only two months after Watson conducted her television interview, the Lebanon Warming Center was opened.
Executive Director for Free Store Ministry Amber Meredith said Free Store Ministry had been praying for a warming center for years.
“We interact with people that struggle for housing and a warm place to stay during the winter months on a daily basis,” Meredith said. “We were overjoyed when the possibility of having a set warming center became a reality.”
The center is open from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. on days when the weather is forecasted to be 32 degrees or below. As the church is located outside the city limits, those in need of shelter meet at the Free Store Ministry building and are transported for free by a local taxi service in limousines.
At the center, individuals are met by volunteers and receive food, hygiene items and other necessities donated by the involved organizations. Each person has their own cot, blanket and pillow for the evening. The individuals can use the center’s showers and may also wash and dry their clothes in machines donated by the local Lowe’s store.
Last winter the center accommodated 249 total stays, serving a total of 33 people and was open 42 nights. Now in its second year of operation, the center expects to see an increase in the number of individuals served.
“We started off small last year but as word of mouth has spread, our numbers are already on the rise,” said Shannon Reynolds, operations manager for L-LIFE Food Pantry.
Those involved in the center believe it is important to the community and are grateful to the Lebanon Church for providing its education center to help those in need.
“The center not only provides shelter for those that need it on the worst of nights, it also has brought an element of hope that wasn’t present before,” Meredith said. “It is an inspiration to those in the community to step out and be the hands and feet of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
— Written by Marcia Clark, communication director for the Lebanon Church and Christina Coston, communication director for the Iowa-Missouri Conference