CRESTVIEW — Jimmy James, visiting from Arizona, praised Crestview’s hospitality, friendliness and local cooks’ culinary skills.


CRESTVIEW — Jimmy James, visiting from Arizona, praised Crestview’s hospitality, friendliness and local cooks’ culinary skills.



Unlike most visitors, however, James wasn’t browsing Main Street shops or sampling the city’s diverse eateries. He is homeless and visited local soup kitchens and cold weather shelters to get through the recent spate of chilly nights.



“That was a good meal,” James said, settling down for a nap on First Presbyterian Church’s sunny east side after eating at its Friday soup kitchen. A few hours later, he was a guest of the church’s cold weather shelter, where he had a hot dinner, a movie and breakfast the next morning.



“You have a pretty nice town here,” James said. “I took the cure for alcohol, so I feel a lot better. I can do it with God’s help; you have to ask him for strength. And your people here really help.”



James, who has no family, said caring people such as those he encountered in Crestview are helping him recover.



“We had 50 people for the soup kitchen today,” Rev. Mark Broadhead, the church’s pastor, said. For the evening’s cold weather shelter, the church hosted six homeless people, including James.



Ann Sprague, a Community of Christ church member, coordinates local soup kitchens and cold weather shelters through Hope Network, a group of volunteers representing several area congregations.



“We have good people in Crestview,” Sprague said. “They take care of them (the homeless). They keep an eye on them.”



Fewer people have been staying in Crestview’s shelters this year than last, she said. Typically, Crestview shelters daily serve five to eight people.



“It’s been probably down a little bit because a number of people have got places to stay and they’re no longer homeless,” Sprague said. “That’s always good.”



The range of people served is wide, and sometimes includes couples and families, she said.



“It’s not just drunks who show up,” Sprague said. “It’s people who are just down on their luck. Their husband beat them or whatever. We do have far more men than woman, but we do get women and women with children sometimes.”



Through monetary donations, Hope Network sometimes can remove a family from the streets.



“We had a mother with a 16-year-old daughter who was pregnant, a middle school boy and a 2-year-old child. They were living in her car and driving to Destin to work every day.



“She had saved money but the only thing that was keeping them from getting into an apartment was $60 for a water bill, so Hope Network paid for their water bill. That was kind of scary. A girl who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant: She could’ve had that baby at any time.”



Most local churches that host cold weather shelters also operate daily soup kitchens. Until October 2012, Sunday was the only day left unserved by a Hope Network soup kitchen. The Salvation Army stepped up and began operating its mobile soup kitchen downtown. Originally planned for the City Hall parking lot, organizers said a lack of attendance necessitated a move.



“Nobody showed up so we drove around a bit,” Lt. Jessica Welch said. “Now we park at the convenience store (Thrifty Foods) and we serve from 40 to 50 people each Sunday.”



“The churches have been just outstanding in their cooperation and coming together to take care of this problem,” Sprague said. “We do the best we can. We can always use more volunteers.”





 



Want to help?



Hope Network volunteers meet the third Monday of the month, except summer, 6 p.m. at Community of Christ church, 398 W. First Ave.



Donations sought include thermal underwear, cots, tents, blankets, coats, heavy socks and sleeping bags.



Call Ann Sprague, 826-1770, for information about donating supplies, money or volunteering.



Cold weather shelters



Cold night shelters open at 6 p.m. when forecasters predict weather below 40 degrees.



•Mondays: Emmanuel Baptist at First Presbyterian Church, 492 N. Ferdon Blvd.



•Tuesdays: Joy Fellowship at Community of Christ, 398 W. First Ave.



•Wednesdays: Community of Christ, 398 W. First Ave.



•Thursdays: New Beginnings Baptist Church, 412 W. James Lee Blvd.



•Fridays: First Presbyterian Church, 492 N. Ferdon Blvd.



•Saturdays: First United Methodist Church, 599 Eighth Ave.



•Sundays: LifePoint (First Assembly of God), 400 S. Ferdon Blvd.



Soup Kitchens



Baker:



11 a.m. Wednesdays, Shady Grove Assembly of God, and 6 p.m. Tuesdays at First Methodist Church of Baker.



Crestview:



11a.m. to noon, except as noted.



•Mondays: Central Baptist Church, 951 S. Ferdon Blvd.



•Tuesdays: Our Savior Lutheran Church, 178 N. Avenue W



•Wednesdays: LifePoint (First Assembly of God), 400 S. Ferdon Blvd.; and Macedonian Missionary Baptist Church, 603 Martin Luther King Ave. (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)



•Thursdays: Community of Christ, 398 W. First Ave.



•Fridays: First Presbyterian Church, 492 N. Ferdon Blvd.



•Saturdays: First United Methodist, 599 Eighth Ave.



•Sundays: Salvation Army mobile soup kitchen, Thrifty Foods parking lot, 498 S. Wilson St. (4-5 p.m.)



Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or brianh@crestviewbulletin.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.