The doors to enter Grace United Methodist Church. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Service providers and volunteers who help the unsheltered community in Springfield got some welcome news this week: a downtown church is stepping up to be the evening meal and transportation pick-up site on evenings when cold weather shelters are open. 

Grace United Methodist Church at 600 S. Jefferson Ave. will open its doors from 5 to 8 p.m. on nights when the temperature is predicted to hit 32 degrees or colder to allow folks a warm place to be while they wait for the buses that will take them to overnight shelter sites.

Volunteers from different groups, such as the Gathering Friends and other church groups, will serve dinner during that time. 

Around 6:30 p.m., buses from City Utilities, Community Partnership of the Ozarks and a van from Eden Village will begin transporting people to the appropriate overnight shelter sites. 

Grace United Methodist Church has been serving as one of those overnight cold weather shelter sites since 2018.

Pastor Rhonda Galbraith said she and her church board had “lots of discussion and lots of prayer” about whether or not they could also serve as the evening meal site. The board approved the decision on Tuesday night. 

According to Grace UMC, it was the largest church in the city when the building was erected in 1923. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Pastor: ‘We need to trust God’

“They just said, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” Galbraith said. “We need to take the risk. We need to take the step of faith. We need to trust God that this is the right thing to do.”

The overnight cold weather shelter sites are housed in church buildings throughout Springfield. 

Last year, Veterans Coming Home Center (the daytime drop-in center for the unsheltered) was able to stay open later and serve as that evening meal and pick-up site thanks to some funding from the city.

This is Pastor Rhonda Galbraith with Grace United Methodist Church
This is Pastor Rhonda Galbraith with Grace United Methodist Church. Her church will be the evening meal location for the Crisis Cold Weather Shelter program this winter. (Photo: Rhonda Galbraith)

This year, though, that funding is not available, and the Vets Center will not stay open past 5 p.m. 

This causes a problem because the overnight shelters, which are staffed by volunteers, don’t open until 7 p.m., leaving no place for people to go for a meal and to catch a ride to the shelters. 

The Crisis Cold Weather Shelter committee, through Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness (OAEH), has been scrambling to find an indoor evening meal location since learning in mid-October that the Vets Center would close at 5. 

At a recent OAEH board meeting, Michelle Garand with Community Partnership of the Ozarks described the situation as “pretty desperate.”

“It wouldn’t need heat,” Garand said during that meeting. “We just need a warehouse, a space so people can come in out of the elements. All we are trying to do is keep people warm.”

So far, no funding available to offset costs

The space needed to be big enough to allow for about 250 people to come inside out of the elements and be fairly close to the Vets Center so people could walk there.

Grace United Methodist Church is located one mile south of the Vets Center. 

Galbraith said her church board has a lot of concerns about being the evening meal site, and this was not an easy decision. The building is old (constructed in 1923) and does not have adequate bathrooms for that many people. The board is also concerned about the additional utility costs and what happens if something gets broken. 

At this time, there is no funding available to help offset the cost of being the evening meal site location. 

Cots are set up at the crisis cold weather shelter inside Unity of Springfield.
This is what Unity of Springfield’s crisis cold weather shelter looked like before guests arrived last year. (Photo: Lisa Landrigan)

Galbraith said she told the board that she has faith in the volunteer groups that will be serving meals, faith in the community and faith the church will somehow be able to afford to provide this service. 

“It’s just God’s work,” she said. “God has worked through the hearts of Grace people that came to this decision.”

Galbraith said volunteers are needed both to staff the women’s overnight shelter at Grace and also to help clean during the day. 

In the past, the church has never asked for volunteers to help clean. But now that there will be 200 to 250 people coming inside for meals and to hang out for a few hours in the evening, having some extra help cleaning the dining hall would “give the congregation some assurance,” Galbraith said. 

Grace UMC is open as an overnight, cold weather shelter. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Do you know someone who needs shelter? 

The cold weather shelters open on nights with the National Weather Service predicts the overnight temperature is going to be 32 or colder.

The Connecting Grounds, a church and outreach group that is dedicated to helping the unsheltered community, created the free ShelterSGF app that will send notifications telling people where to go for an evening meal and for transportation to the shelters on nights when the shelters are open. Find more information about the ShelterSGF app here.

To catch a ride to a shelter, be at Grace United Methodist Church around 5:30 p.m. on nights when shelters are open to sign up and get a meal.

Want to help?

There is a critical need for volunteers to help with the Crisis Cold Weather Shelter program. 

Find more information about how to volunteer or support the crisis cold weather shelter program on the Community Partnership of the Ozarks website. You can also email the program coordinator Lisa Landrigan at llandrigan@cpozarks.org.

Donations can be mailed to Grace United Methodist Church, 600 S. Jefferson Ave., Springfield, 65806. The church also has a link to its PayPal account on its website.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald