Working as the Hands & Feet of Jesus
In last week’s blog, we met Benita Padilla, a Pensacola native who was struck with the urgent need to listen to God’s calling and begin serving the homeless in her hometown. After connecting with Ministry Village at Olive, Benita began doing the Lord’s work with a passion that has inspired everyone around her.
At the beginning of each month, Benita puts together special care bags. She purchased a large quantity of reusable shopping bags and she fills them with bottles of water, baby wipes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper, socks, and food items. As cooler weather approaches, she is beginning to add hats, blankets, jackets, and gloves. Benita’s goal is to offer those she encounters some food as well as some dignity. “We all know how awful it feels after a hurricane and we haven’t had a hot shower in a few days. Maybe we haven’t had a hot meal in awhile – just sandwiches and snacks. That is the day to day living situation for these people. That is what every single day is like for them.”
While offering food and basic toiletries was a start, Benita wanted to do more. She really wanted to find a way to give each person she met a clean shirt, some clean socks, and sometimes even new shoes. This is where partnering with Ministry Village really helps Benita’s service go further. By working with MVO’s Tender Hearts Caring Hands ministry, Benita can pick up toiletries and homeless care packages from THCH Director Kathleen Schuster to add to the items she purchases on her own. Then she goes by the Ministry Village Bargain Center where the BC Manager Julie Paden sets aside clothes and shoes for those Benita helps. Benita then drives downtown and around to many of the homeless camps she has found throughout Pensacola, offering her care packages and a friendly smile to those she now considers friends.
Prayer is the first step in Benita’s preparation. “I pray for safety and for God’s guidance and His protection from danger. I pray that He leads me to the people most in need. And He does.” She knows there are people out to take advantage of others – people who are just looking for a handout. But she believes that God has given her discernment to be able to see who really needs her help. “They are always so grateful and so gracious. I tell them that Jesus sent me to help them, and that He knows they are there so they don’t have to feel alone.” A gospel tract along with a list of local homeless resources is included in every care package.
After a recent hurricane, Benita went searching for a man she had previously helped but had not seen in a couple of weeks. When she found him she said, “Oh good! I’ve been looking for you. I’m glad to see you!” His response touched her deeply when he told her, “That makes me feel good – nobody ever wants to see me.” After visiting with him for a few minutes, she noticed the soles of his shoes were worn completely through. She bought him some new shoes from Ross, and he was so grateful. Later, she offered a care package to a homeless woman she met. The woman was overjoyed and told her, “God was right on time!” Everything she’d owned was stolen, and all she had left was what she was wearing at that moment. But she told Benita she knew that God would send her help. Another man was overwhelmed by the care package Benita offered and told her, “I was trying to find some money for food, but God answered my prayers because you showed up.”
“These are just people like us. We all have problems. Theirs may be different, or more severe than ours, but they are still people. I just want them to know that the Lord cares. They have faith too. It’s a humbling experience. It has given me more strength. I’m no longer fearful because God gives me strength through prayer. He puts me where He wants me.”
The homeless community has been impacted significantly in 2020 because of COVID. Many of the ministries and shelters who work with the homeless have closed or are limited in their ability to help because of COVID restrictions. That’s one reason Benita feels she has a particular urgency to help right now. In September, she had 30 care bags to give away. Those 30 bags lasted all month as she looked for people to help around town. She started October with 30 bags again, but after only 2 weeks, they were already all given away. “There are several huge camps around town, and just so many people in need.”
What began as a whisper from God has quickly turned into an all-consuming passion in Benita – something that is evident to anyone she meets. “Her heart and compassion for the homeless is so wonderful,” says Kathleen Schuster, Director of Tender Hearts Caring Hands. “We are so excited to be able to support her work just as she supports our programs.”
When asked what she would tell others who want to help but aren’t sure how, Benita says it’s simple. “Pray. Tell God you want to serve Him, and then listen to His voice. He will put you where He wants you. I have a friend who helps me pack the bags, but isn’t ready to go out into the camps with me, and that’s okay. God will find something that fits your personality. We just have to listen for Him, listen to Him, and then do what He tells us.”
Benita is insistent that all the glory for her actions goes to God. This ministry is what He led her to do. It was His idea. “I’m just the hands and feet, and I can’t wait to see what else He has planned.”
- 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). Donations of nonperishable food items and travel-size hygiene items are accepted. Financial donations are appreciated and go toward purchasing the items THCH distributes each day. Supporters can also make purchases through Amazon and items can be shipped directly to the Ministry Village at Olive office.
- The Tender Hearts Caring Hands Food Pantry provides food Monday-Friday from 10AM to 12noon at the Ministry Village office (1716 E. Olive Road). The most up-to-date drive-thru hours are posted on the Ministry Village at Olive Facebook page. We appreciate your understanding and patience as we work diligently to meet everyone’s needs while following CDC safety guidelines.
- The Ministry Village Bargain Center located at 92 E. Nine Mile Road is open Monday through Saturday, 9AM to 5PM. Donations are accepted Monday through Saturday, 9AM to 4PM. To donate furniture or large quantities of donations, you can schedule a donation pickup by clicking Book Now on their Facebook page or by going to https://resupplyme.com/. Someone from the Bargain Center will then contact you to confirm pickup.
- To donate financially to Tender Hearts Caring Hands or any Ministry Village program, click here.