They walk the streets with little hope that tomorrow will be any different. People look the other way, as if out-of-sight could mean out-of-mind.
Not so. The homeless and needy in Cleveland are a reflection of who we are and how we treat our neighbors. If they exist as a hidden part of Cleveland, it is not their fault. They want to be seen. They want what everyone else wants — to matter, to make a difference, to have a chance.
Like anyone else, there comes a time when help is needed. Their time is now. The place where many in need go to seek help, encouragement and a decent meal is New Life Community Kitchen at 155 South Ocoee St. Going down the handicapped-accessible ramp into a place where people can find food and nourishment to face another day, it becomes apparent that most of these people are looking for a hand up, not a hand out. They want to get out of poverty and start a new life.
Andrew Gonzalez, a volunteer at the community kitchen, admits, “When I first came here I was a real troubled child. I was angry. But with Brenda Crumbley’s and Miss Sheila’s help I’ve become a better person and have learned to appreciate the small things in life. I came from a rich family, but I had drugs to slow me down. If it wasn’t for these ladies, I’d probably be dead.”
The 26-year-old said both the physical food and spiritual food found in the Bible have made him a changed man for the better.
He added, “I was immensely troubled. I looked at everything like a child — like what I need, instead of what we need. The Community Kitchen means life to me. It gives me an opportunity to share what was given to me to other people. I volunteer whenever I can. You can learn if you listen. I would like to see more in the community show appreciation to the ones who need help. That’s what the Bible says we should do. It says go out and feed the ones who need help.”
Crumbley, a pastor serving at the Community Kitchen, said, “There is a need for more volunteers, especially in the mornings. We also need more donations to help males. We need men’s tennis shoes, men’s pants, shirts — men’s clothes mainly. Food donations are always welcome, especially pull top cans so people can take something with them to eat later. Even crackers would be nice.”
Kenneth Cox, a volunteer at the kitchen, said, “Since winter is coming pretty soon, the most things they’ll need on the streets is blankets and food. A bigger shelter is also needed because there are people living out in the woods in tents. In the past eight years I’ve seen quite a few people in the fields sleeping. The capacity of the shelter is like 60 people or so and that’s it. They have to turn people away. It would help if more donations came in to feed people on the streets because a lot of them today depend on this place right here and the Salvation Army. If it wasn’t for these places they would starve to death!”
Caroline Crowe, who likes to visit and volunteer, said, “I attend the Community Kitchen sporadically and I feel Cleveland needs more community kitchens, maybe one in the Southeast area.”
Frank Cancler, a volunteer at the Community Kitchen, admits there are benefits in having a self-sacrificing spirit and working with the needy. When asked what it means to be a volunteer at the Community Kitchen, Cancler said, “It means a blessing from the Lord when I help people out. I get blessed in return. You want to know the truth? I’ll tell you.”
The New Life Community Kitchen, part of the division of Norvell Hayes Ministry, operates out of New Life Bible Church in Cleveland. It is open Monday through Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m. Food bags are given out only on the last Wednesday of each month from 10 to 11:45 a.m.
For further information or to donate supplies, call the main office at 479-5434, ext. 114. Items can also be brought to the back parking lot of New Life Bible Church down the Community Kitchen’s handicapped-accessible ramp during regular business hours.