By Becky St. Clair
One Friday night business administration major George Grigsby was serving food for AfterLite, a post-vespers event designed to encourage student fellowship, he was approached by fellow student John Roberts, asking for any leftovers.
“I asked him what he needed them for, and that’s when I learned about the Clearlake Ministry,” Grigsby says.
Roberts was the leader of the ministry at that time, and he encouraged Grigsby to accompany them. The ministry, run by PUC students, provides both hot and nonperishable food, hygiene items, clothing, and prayer to persons experiencing homelessness on the streets of Clearlake, California. This year, Grigsby is the ministry leader, taking around five fellow students with him every other week to connect with anyone they can find.
“It’s getting harder to reach them because the local law enforcement is stepping up their efforts to disperse the city’s homeless,” Grigsby explains. “So instead of the 75-100 we used to serve there, we now see only 15-30 each time, and we have to drive around to various locations to find them.”
When they do connect with someone, Grigsby and his team make sure to inquire about needs they might be able to fill the next time they come. The top three requested items, especially this time of year when it’s chilly, are sweaters, sleeping bags, and socks.
Howell Mountain Market contributes groceries for the Clearlake Ministry team, and Grigsby spends a bit of time each day putting the bags together so it doesn’t add up to one long night of doing it all. Then he and his student team get together and cook hot food, as well.
“This ministry gives me a chance to put myself in a situation where I can make things better,” Grigsby explains. Growing up in West Africa, he felt very deeply the tragedy that occurred when Ebola broke out there in 2014.
“The people I grew up with were suffering, and I couldn’t do anything about it,” he recalls. “If I can’t make a difference there, I will help the people around me. Clearlake gives me a chance to do that.”
As a sophomore, Kevin Martins, junior biology and pre-med major, had seen Homeless Ministries listed in the “This Week at PUC” emails many times, and when he happened to meet the student director of the Berkeley Ministry to the homeless, he decided to give it a try.
“I really enjoyed the experience of preparing and serving food for others,” he says. “They’re usually just there alone and really enjoy having someone notice them and listen to what they have to say.”
When the ministry leader graduated, Martins stepped up and took over. Every other Sabbath the team of around 15 pile into a large van and attend church and eat potluck with the Adventist church in Berkeley. After potluck, they prepare food in the church’s kitchen to serve the homeless in a place called People’s Park. They serve food, talk with the people, find out their needs and make lists for next time they come, and pray with those who are willing.
“When we’re at the church I organize the group to make sure everyone has a role,” Martins explains. “Everyone has their skills and strengths, and we work together well, making sure everything happens that needs to.”
The group typically serves around 50 homeless, but recently new tents appeared at the park, and Martins made notes to prepare food for 70 the next time they came. Once they serve within the main part of the park, they carry plates around to other areas of the park to serve those who didn’t make it to the table.
Martins has participated in an Amen Clinic previously, and it sparked his interest in serving others. He intends to continue doing so even once he starts his career.
“I want to be a doctor because I want to help people in their healing,” he says. “This ministry has helped me see this is, in fact, what I want to do with my life.”
It’s the stories that affect Martins most. One week he met a woman in a wheelchair who had spent many years living in Brazil, Martins’ home. They began speaking in Portuguese, and she shared her struggles with him.
“She explained to me how being disabled makes being homeless even harder,” he says. “Sometimes she is harassed by other homeless people, and once she and her wheelchair were even set on fire. The things she tells me inspire me to keep going back.”
Martins, like Grigsby, says a majority of the requests they receive from those they serve are for basic hygiene items such as toothbrushes and shaving cream, as well as warm clothing such as socks and jackets.
Both ministries accept donations toward supplies as well as donations of time to prepare and/or serve. Since not everyone has cooking skills, they invite those who do to contribute their skills to serve others. Whether it’s helping prepare the food or delivering pre-cooked meals, both ministries welcome contributions.
“These ministries give us a chance to see beyond ourselves,” he says. “The present need of others isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem. And if we don’t know what’s going on around us, we can’t help.”
Hygiene kits or supplies for them, clothes—especially socks, gloves, hats, and coats—and money toward gas and food are always appreciated. Anyone who wishes to accompany the groups to Berkeley or Clearlake can reach out to Grigsby and Martins for a schedule and instructions. Drivers are also needed, as two current drivers are graduating this spring. Although worship credit is available for this ministry, both Grigsby and Martins encourage student participants to focus on the serving rather than the credit.
“The purpose is to take a look at your life and realize all you have and how you can give from that to those who don’t have,” Grigsby says. “If you can help make a difference for someone not doing as well, you should. It’s the selflessness of giving and what you learn from the experience that is most important.”
A new part of this ministry that Martins would like to start is bringing musicians to provide live music for the people as they eat. If you play an instrument and are interested in being part of ministry in this way, let Martins know. If you are interested in contributing to either of these ministries in any way, contact Grigsby at firstname.lastname@example.org or Martins at email@example.com.
“We’re so fortunate, and we need to give whenever we get the chance,” Martins comments. “This is that chance.”
Editor’s note: The following is a list of items needed the most by Homeless Ministries. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream, shaving razors, sanitary pads, soap bars, deodorant, tissues, wet wipes, towels, and other personal hygiene items. Food, clothes, and cash donations are always greatly needed and appreciated.