Refresh: Hygiene and Hope is a collaborative project between First United Methodist Church of Holland (FUMC) and Community Action House (CAH). Its mission is to provide free access to services that increase dignity and eliminate barriers to housing stability. Refresh is open at FUMC two mornings per week — Tuesdays and Fridays from 8–11 a.m., and offers showers, clean clothing, mail service, assistance with accessing community services, light breakfast (and to-go lunches during COVID-19) and even haircuts when available. These services are free for all who attend with no questions asked.
Meet LuAnne Stanley Hook, director of community involvement at FUMC
How did you get started with Refresh?
CAH and FUMC have a long history of collaboration in meeting the needs of our community. FUMC was an original partner of CAH and has been faithfully assisting in the provision of free meals at the community kitchen for the past 26 years. In 2017, FUMC became a temporary home to the community kitchen during renovations at its regular location, Western Theological Seminary. During this one-year period, conversations between church members, CAH staff and patrons brought forth new ways for CAH and FUMC to collaborate.
Homeless outreach workers from CAH experienced FUMC as a church community that was open to relationships with people in need. They met church members and staff while helping individuals from the community kitchen, and wondered what else they could do to work together. The workers learned from their surveys of persons experiencing homelessness that there was a need for services to address barriers to those who were trying to escape homelessness. They named showers, an address for receiving mail and connections to caring community members as needs for them to find and maintain a job and increasing their ability to find housing. In a collaborative desire to respond to these needs, FUMC and CAH developed Refresh: Hygiene and Hope.
What impact does Refresh have on the community?
Refresh is one of the few places open and accessible to persons experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have also provided to-go lunches to anyone who needs them, made with foods which can be eaten at leisure without refrigeration. We have remained open throughout the shutdown, deeming ourselves essential due to being the only place for showers for anyone living outside or in cars, etc. We have implemented many new hygiene practices, including social distancing, instead of the close community atmosphere, which previously existed, but these changes have enabled us to provide a safe environment for our patrons and volunteers.
CAH’s Outreach staff, Daniel Unekis and Bonnie Naylor-Tatterson, are a consistent presence at Refresh, using the location as a venue to connect with patrons and assist them in regaining needed documentation, and in making connections to other community resources. Since the COVID-19 shutdown, eight people have found housing through Dan and Bonnie’s focused efforts.
Why this matters
We believe that access to the ability to keep oneself clean is a justice issue, and we at Refresh are doing our part to remove this injustice that makes it difficult to get or maintain a job. In addition, the awareness that is born of relationships between our volunteers and guests has led to a greater awareness of the issues involved with homelessness and housing fairness in our area. Once the barriers that Refresh addresses are removed, the next obstacle is the lack of housing in the area, as the patron often waits months for an affordable unit to open up. Many people live outside or in their vehicles while waiting for housing, even when they are employed. Church members, Refresh volunteers and patrons have been speaking out for the need of affordable housing and are looking into ways to make a difference in this area.
How you can help
Our biggest needs are for volunteers and donations of food and supplies. To donate, visit our Facebook page or the church’s website and look for lists of needed items that can be dropped off on Tuesday and Friday mornings. To volunteer, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-649-2165. And most importantly, please support efforts in our area to increase the amount of affordable housing so that all in our community might have the dignity of a place to call home.