Churches, Synagogues Asked To Help House Homeless Families


In the midst of a cold and snowy winter, more homeless families than ever are seeking shelter.  Since the YWCA Family Shelter can't house them all, the Community Shelter Board has re-started an old program with the help of churches and synagogues.

Messiah Lutheran Church in Reynoldsburg was expecting overnight guests, two single mothers, each with a son.  Men moved furniture in the playroom out of the way, and then put mattresses on the floor. They carried in containers of freshly-laundered sheets, blankets and towels.

As part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, churches and synagogues help house the homeless.  Each hosts a family or two for week out of the month. The effort began in 1989 and lasted until 2006, when the YWCA Family Center opened.

"It was a huge part of our church life back in the 90s and early 00s, when we did the IHN," said senior pastor Karl Hanf.

Volunteer Biruta Buckenberger, who joined the effort the first time, said, "We had never done anything like this before. This wonderful opportunity came along, to serve God's people."  

She wanted to be a part of it.

But the YWCA Family Center is now jammed with three times the number of people it was built to accommodate.  Last year, the Community Shelter Board said that 2400 children slept in shelters, the youngest only three weeks old.  The family center had run out of space.  So the Community Shelter Board re-activated the Interfaith Hospitality Network work last fall.

"We were honored.  We were honored that they remembered us and that we could serve again," the pastor said.

More volunteers...women, this time...covered the mattresses with sheets and blankets.  They laid out a tray of toiletries and hung clean towels.  They knew that in a few hours, other members of their congregation would head to the family shelter to pick up with overnight guests. The guests stay from 8 at night until 6 in the morning, then more volunteers drive them back.  Coordinator Joann Barrett said it takes a team of 25 to make this work.

"Whatever's necessary to do, you know, I will do to make them comfortable here, to make them welcome here," Buckenberger said as she arranged snack bags of chips and granola bars on a tray.

Buckenberger said that sometimes the visiting children hated to leave, because of all the toys in the church's playroom.  

She empathized with the homeless families.

"In my lifetime, I have been helped along the way. And so, helping others has been a way of life for my family," she said.

At one point, 41 churches and synagogues in the Columbus area were part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network.