Lending a Hand of Service

Shower Ministry Brings Care and Dignity to Homeless

By Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

When I agreed to a challenge recently, I was reminded of the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”

The challenge consisted of multiple parts, but the one that gave me pause was to volunteer four times in eight weeks. I serve our community almost daily in my work at United Way of Charlotte County. I do not, however, take nearly enough time outside of work to serve my community (blame it on work/life balance, if you will). Because of this, I accepted the challenge with gratitude and a small slice of humble pie.

My charity of choice was my spiritual home – First United Methodist Church. As a member for over 15 years, I was curious to learn more about their homeless shower ministry, while lending a hand of service.

Peter Gillen and his wife Linda have seen this ministry through since its inception around 2013. When asking Peter about the history, he stated, “Henry Jacques, a member of FUMC’s Men of Faith group, and an advocate for the homeless of Charlotte County, asked me if we could start a shower ministry at our church.” Several others, including Leslie Martin from Jesus Loves You Ministry and Gail and Ralph LaGro, helped get it started. Gillen explained that the most special part of this work is showing those who are homeless that someone cares about them.

Every first Sunday, folks from the Homeless Coalition are provided transportation to the church. They are greeted with a host of clothing options and hygiene products for them to select from before entering the shower. The day I volunteered, there were 12 individuals that arrived for showers and a meal. The simple fact that I had a shower at home to use whenever I wish to was not lost on me.

Additionally, there was an opportunity for a haircut and style. To my surprise, the smiling lady who was nurturing these individuals was none other than my hair stylist from Elan Hair Salon. She reported this was her favorite thing to do every month. Each person getting their hair cut or styled sat up straighter with an expression of worth and dignity.

Gillen stated, “Our shower ministry was started to help fulfill the words of Jesus that Matthew recorded in his twenty-fifth chapter, verses 35-36: ‘for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ It was with this spirit of service to those around us in need, that we were called.”

Church members and others from the community fully fund and staff the shower ministry. I was in awe as I witnessed the love and care that the volunteers put into every last detail.

Our community thrives when groups and individuals lend a hand of service where it is needed most. Those with giving hearts are often not placed in the spotlight or given proper accolades, but the impact of their service is seen in its ripple effect across the county. Our community is all the better because of those who volunteer from the heart for the sake of others.

As I was challenged to give of my time and talent, I pass the challenge on to you. If you need help connecting with a volunteer opportunity, please call our office at 941-627-3539. If you have a heart to serve but your time is limited, First United Methodist Church is collecting items to support their homeless shower ministry.

The following items can be dropped off at First United Methodist Church, 507 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda or at the United Way office 17831 Murdock Circle, Suite A, Port Charlotte.

Toothbrushes, combs, disposable razors (for sensitive skin), individual sized deodorants, large size spray deodorants, new white washcloths, shaving cream, new men’s briefs and women’s underwear and sports bras (all sizes).

I ask that you join us in serving our neighbors. We can each play a role in being a Community United.

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at director@unitedwayccfl.org.