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Helping our neighbors in Kalamazoo

Hafsa is one of over 100 Kalamazoo residents who now has a new cell phone thanks to the Phone Ministry Project of Kalamazoo First United Methodist Church. ~ photo courtesy of Dick Schilts
Hafsa is one of over 100 Kalamazoo residents who now has a new cell phone thanks to the Phone Ministry Project of Kalamazoo First United Methodist Church. ~ photo courtesy of Dick Schilts
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Helping Our Neighbors (HON) has been a community engagement ministry of First United Methodist Church since it was created by church member Kim Taylor in 2012. HON initially targeted assistance to those facing utility shut-off and/or eviction notices for failure to keep up with utility, rent, or mortgage payments. This important work continues.

Moved by regular contact with persons living in homelessness and other challenging circumstances, the HON volunteers have learned by asking, “What do you need?” Many of those they have come to know in their service said, “We need a reliable way to communicate with persons and places that are essential for our safety and welfare.”

Even during the pandemic, HON (Helping Our Neighbors) is bringing help to the homeless. Kalamazoo First UMC member Dick Shilts gives a cell phone with a year of paid service to a HON client. ~photo courtesy Dick Shilts. 
Even during the pandemic, HON (Helping Our Neighbors) is bringing help to the homeless. Kalamazoo First UMC member Dick Shilts gives a cell phone with a year of paid service to a HON client. ~photo courtesy Dick Shilts

David Lundquist, a longtime Kalamazoo First UMC, HON, and Michigan Conference member, is grateful to the Michigan Conference Board of Justice. The board awarded HON $3,000 in 2021 to help begin this ministry during its annual grants to worthy projects from funds received through the Michigan United Methodist Conference-wide Peace with Justice offering. Contributions from individuals and funds from First UMC of Kalamazoo have provided another $8,000 to help seed the beginnings of this new outreach effort. The church has now begun Phase 2 with a goal of raising $15,000 to provide additional phones to Kalamazoo’s underserved population. [1]

Your gifts on Peace with Justice Sunday enables The United Methodist Church to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of global programs.

HON volunteer Dick Shilts offers praise to Daniel Bruce and the employees at Kalamazoo’s area Cricket phone stores for their willingness to partner with HON to help Kalamazoo’s neediest neighbors get greater access through cell phones.

Shilts knows this ministry is making a significant impact on the lives of those who have received this gift. He has already received feedback about one person who used the cell phone to apply for a job and has begun working regularly at a Kalamazoo store conveniently located near a bus route. Another has used their new phone to call for 911 to come and help deliver a new baby. Someone has used the phone to call for help in a medical emergency. Grateful recipients have shared with him how much it means to be able to stay connected to the wider world.

HON volunteers are helping to solve logistical problems such as providing cases for phones and protective screens to limit breakage, distributing portable chargers, and figuring out how to handle phones reported lost, broken, or stolen. HON also needs to determine what policies will be in place if the need outstrips resources to help. The morning after HON’s cell phone ministry was featured on the Kalamazoo nightly news, 12 persons came to the church looking for assistance.

First UMC of Kalamazoo expanded ministry to their at-risk neighbors with YANA (You Are Not Alone) by providing a hot meal for 80 to 100 persons each Sunday evening at the church until shutting down during COVID. HON has also provided warm sleeping bag coats for the homeless living outdoors in the winter. These special coats are designed and put together by the Empowerment Plan, a ministry in Detroit that employs the homeless in making the coats. Last winter the local Kalamazoo ministry provided 115 coats. So far this winter HON has distributed 70 more coats and has an additional 65 coats to distribute as needed.

excerpt from a story by Glenn Wagner, Conference Communicator, Michigan Annual Conference

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Peace with Justice Sunday enables The United Methodist Church to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of global programs. The special offering benefits peace with justice ministries in the annual conference and through the General Board of Church and Society.

When you give generously on Peace with Justice Sunday, you give The United Methodist Church a voice in advocating for global peace and justice. Give now.