Looking Back with 2020 Vision
The year 2020 has been full of challenges for the entire world, and the Gulf Coast has been no exception. Between school and business closures, job losses tied to the Covid-19 Pandemic, and a tremendously active hurricane season that brought devastating damage to our area, the residents of Northwest Florida have faced one of the darkest years of our lives. Operating the programs of Ministry Village throughout this year has offered our MVO team an up-close and personal view of the vast needs of our community, But we have also witnessed the astounding reach of our God’s blessings, as well as His ability to use His people to help those in need. Over the next 2 weeks, we will look back on how each of the MVO programs pursued its mission throughout 2020, even during what seemed like impossible times.
Tender Hearts Caring Hands
Tender Hearts Caring Hands is MVO’s benevolence program, providing family food bags as well as financial assistance (including rent and utilities) to those who qualify. THCH is also a lifeline to a large number of homeless men and women in the area who depend on the hygiene bags and ready-to-eat food items THCH provides. Due to job losses and hurricane closures in 2020, THCH experienced one of its busiest and most demanding years since it began in 2008.
After MVO’s office relocated in 2019, the THCH Food Pantry was significantly reduced in size. Short-term accommodations were made for food storage, but long-term changes were necessary. When the Bargain Center moved to its new location on 9 Mile Road at the end of 2019, it transferred ownership of a large Conex shipping container to Tender Hearts. The Walmart in Destin awarded THCH with a grant to renovate the container, turning it into a climate-controlled, secure food storage unit. The storage provided by this new space arrived in God’s perfect timing, as the Covid-19 Pandemic impacted our community, tripling the number of food pantry clients from previous years. Volunteers worked tirelessly to renovate the space, and as food donations from our supporters poured in, THCH was able to meet the growing demand from our community. In fact, during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring and summer of 2020, the Tender Hearts Food Pantry was one of the only food pantries operating in Northwest Florida.
To accommodate clients while also meeting CDC guidelines, THCH adjusted from an indoor, walk-up food pantry to an outdoor, drive-thru food pantry. Setting up the food tent and moving items each day was labor intensive, but it proved to be a successful model, and THCH volunteers and staff were able to serve clients who waited in long car lines each day for food. THCH also worked closely with Olive Baptist Church and Florida Baptist Disaster Relief to coordinate drive through community food drives, distributing more than 11,000 boxes of food in May 2020 alone.
As the holidays drew near, THCH focused on providing holiday food items to its clients, as well as coordinating its Adopt-A-Family program. Adopt-A-Family connects families in need with donors who shop and wrap gifts for the children, and provide complete holiday meals for the families. Each year, this program is able to grow and bless more families in our community thanks to the generosity of its donors, including Lowes on Airport Boulevard, and Five Flags Sertoma of Pensacola.
Most Excellent Way & Jail Ministry
Most Excellent Way is MVO’s faith-based support group for those struggling with addiction. The Bible provides solutions for those struggling with behavioral and substance addictions, and the Most Excellent Way group meetings serve to encourage and support anyone who is in the midst of the ongoing fight to be restored. At Most Excellent Way, leaders teach that through Christ, you can find freedom from your addiction. Meetings were suspended in mid-March as the world stopped because of the pandemic.
In May, as cases went down locally, MEW meetings resumed on the main campus of Olive Baptist Church. It became quickly apparent that the pandemic had contributed to a considerable amount of relapse among those suffering from addiction. Isolation, anxiety, and depression led many who relied on MEW meetings to turn to old habits for comfort. As meetings resumed, attendance slowly climbed; however, numbers remained low throughout the year. MEW leaders reached out to those they knew were struggling, and encouraged them through phone calls and private visits. MVO’s Jail Ministry was also severely impacted throughout 2020. As Covid cases spread throughout the jails, facilities went on strict lockdowns, prohibiting outside visitors. Even jail chaplains were limited in their ability to minister throughout the prisons, many of them being exposed to the virus, and some even hospitalized for treatment.
As flu season ramps up and Covid cases begin to rise, the jails remain locked down for the foreseeable future. MEW in-person meetings continue on Olive’s main campus, with lots of room for social distancing and masks provided to help everyone in attendance feel comfortable. Leaders continue to reach out to those who need support and their prayer is that anyone struggling will find the support they need and return to meetings soon.
The Charis House is a non-profit Christian-based residential substance abuse recovery program for females. The program is designed in 3 phases, each offering stages of recovery that provide the necessary tools for a practical transition into a new lifestyle free of addiction. The faith-based recovery program addresses the client’s personal relationship with God as the foundation for healing and wholeness. Charis House relies heavily on volunteers to teach and support the women in the program. As the pandemic hit the Gulf Coast, the Charis House conducted many classes by Zoom video call to minimize risk to its volunteers and clients. The ladies typically spend much of their time volunteering in the community, but during the second quarter of 2020, that was strictly limited. However, they were still able to volunteer more than 2,000 hours in our community throughout the year. The annual clay shoot fundraiser (Shooting for Grace) was a great fundraiser for these socially-distanced times, and this year, it raised a record-setting amount of funding to support the Charis House operations.
2020 also brought the passing of the baton from the original Charis House Director, Ms. Debbe Jefcoat, to Ms. Vanessa Bettis, when Ms. Debbe retired on July 1st. During her years leading the Charis House, Ms. Debbe poured into the lives of more than 150 women. To recognize her dedication and leadership, the MVO Board of Directors dedicated the Phase I Charis House to her and named it “The Debbe Jefcoat House” in her honor. Ms. Debbe continues to remain connected to the Charis House and her MVO family, checking in on “her girls” from time to time. Ms. Vanessa worked under Ms. Debbe’s leadership for several years, and her steadfast leadership throughout the challenges of 2020 has been Spirit-led. While the pandemic placed limitations on accepting new clients, it offered a special time for current clients to experience focus and healing among a close-knit group.
The needs in the Gulf Coast throughout 2020 were immense; however, the care and outpouring of donations, volunteers, and support from our Ministry Village family inspired all of us to keep working hard and continue shining the light of God’s love throughout our community. Next week, we’ll look back at how the Bargain Center and the Early Learning Center tackled the challenges of 2020.
The mission of Ministry Village at Olive is to put the words of Jesus into action throughout our community – “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40, NIV) If you are looking for a place to demonstrate kindness to others for the glory of God, give us a call. We have opportunities through the Bargain Center; at our Tender Hearts Caring Hands benevolence program and food pantry; through the Most Excellent Way addiction support groups; at the Charis House; and at the Ministry Village Early Learning Center.
Tender Hearts Caring Hands is MVO’s benevolence program, providing family food bags as well as financial assistance including rent and utilities to those who qualify. THCH is also a lifeline to a large number of homeless men and women in the area who depend greatly on the hygiene bags and ready-to-eat food items THCH provides. The Tender Hearts Caring Hands Food Pantry accepts donations Monday through Friday, from 9AM to 2PM at the Ministry Village at Olive office (1716 E. Olive Road, behind Olive Baptist Church). Donations of nonperishable food items and travel-size hygiene are accepted. Financial donations are also appreciated and go toward purchasing the items THCH distributes each day. Want to help? If you would like to take part in this year’s THCH Adopt a Family, you can donate financially toward the gifts and food needed. Candy and stocking stuffers are also needed. Contact Kathie at (850)475-1118 or by email at KSchuster@ministryvillage.org, or drop off your donations at the Ministry Village office – 1716 E. Olive Road, Monday through Friday, 8AM to 12PM.
Most Excellent Way meetings are held each week at the Olive Baptist Church Main Campus (Tuesdays and Fridays from 7pm to 8:30pm). Meetings are open to anyone struggling with addictive behavior, as well as the family members and loved ones of those struggling. Volunteers interested in working with MEW can provide encouragement, a listening ear, and prayerful support to those who attend our meetings. If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with MEW, or if you are interested in participating in a Friends and Family support group through MEW, contact Scott Heald at SHeald@ministryvillage.org or by phone at 850-475-1112.
The Charis House is a non-profit Christian-based residential substance abuse recovery program for females. The program is designed in 3 phases, each offering stages of recovery that provide the necessary tools for a practical transition into a new lifestyle free of addiction. The faith-based recovery program addresses the client’s personal relationship with God as the foundation for healing and wholeness. It requires a willingness to change and adhere to a controlled, strict and disciplined environment, allowing life-changing experiences to occur. There is no fee to apply. To learn more about the Charis House, click here or contact Vanessa Bettis at 850-475-1116 or VBettis@MinistryVillage.org.