The Daily Gamecock

No 'Homeless for the Homeless'

Midtown Fellowship forced to relocate last minute

Midtown Fellowship's annual Homeless for the Homeless sleep-out fundraiser and service day, scheduled to be held Feb. 17-18 at Capitol City Stadium on Assembly Street, was cancelled due to a late decision by stadium management not to allow the church to hold its event there. The church regrouped its plans, about 60 volunteers — many USC students — and served and fellowshipped with homeless members of the community Saturday at Transitions homeless shelter on Main Street.

Community missions pastor Allen Tipping said the church was informed of the stadium's decision about two weeks before Homeless for the Homeless was to take place. The church had made arrangements and been planning since December.

"We were just kind of shocked and a little frustrated to get such last minute notice," Tipping said. "It was kind of like, 'OK, what are we going to do now?'"
Midtown volunteers provided free food, foot and nail care, hair cuts by students from the Paul Mitchell School and games and activities Saturday at Transitions. USC students who volunteered spent time with Transitions residents playing games of chess and cards, sharing dance moves, strategizing over an over-sized Jenga set and sitting down in conversation with residents who had stories to share and wisdom to impart, including military veterans, recovering drug addicts and even former professional athletes.

First-year religious studies student Sara Betenbaugh has participated in multiple homeless service opportunities with Midtown in the past.

"It's a really cool way of loving on the homeless in Columbia," said Betenbaugh. "As Christians we're called to 'love the least of these.' They're normal people with hopes and desires just like me. Jesus made himself a servant and he humbled himself, so we're supposed to humble ourselves in imitating Christ."

Second-year international business student Wesley Phillips remarked on how open some of the shelter members were about their lives and their stories and how easy it was to form a bond with them.

"There was this one guy ... I'd been hanging out, playing some chess, and he sat down and we had some really good conversation. He was telling me about his life. I felt like I was just sitting at his feet, listening to him give me his wisdom," Phillips said.

Phillips said he and the man exchanged phone numbers to keep in touch, as did several other volunteers.

"It's amazing how it's a blessing on both sides," said Jack Stokes, a human resources graduate student.

More than 1,000 people lived without homes in Richland County in 2011, including more than 70 families with children, according to the most recent data from the South Carolina Council on Homelessness. Richland hosts the highest count of homeless individuals and families among all counties in the state.
Transitions opened last summer, and Saturday was Midtown's second time partnering with the shelter to serve the homeless. Tipping said the church is beginning to establish a relationship and partnership between its congregation and Transitions. He hopes that events like Saturday's will spark compassion and a desire to serve among its members, a large proportion of whom are college students.

"Part of what we want to do by offering these day mission trips is spark some interest on a personal level," Tipping said. "[We want to] knock off some of the stigma of the homeless community ... Our hope is that people would just care more, [start] loving and engaging people."