UMC connection spurs Rock Hill District churches to furnish apartments for homeless

By Jessica Brodie

ROCK HILL—One nonprofit’s furniture needs has brought an entire district together in a connectional spirit of support and Christian love.

Pilgrim’s Inn is a service agency in Rock Hill that provides shelter, assistance and supportive services for the community’s most vulnerable residents. They offer a 14-bed shelter for women and children, a food pantry for emergency assistance, a low-cost childcare center, job readiness and education programs, and the Tricia’s Court Apartments, which are 10 transitional housing units to help homeless and vulnerable individuals and families on their path to self-sufficiency.

However, three of their transitional apartments were vacant this summer—not because no one needed them, but because they didn’t have enough furniture donations to house new residents.

In August, the Rev. Emily Sutton found out about Pilgrim’s Inn’s furniture needs. Sutton, who pastors Philadelphia and Bethel United Methodist churches and chairs the Outreach area for Rock Hill’s District Connectional Ministries, didn’t just spread the word to her own churches, but instead mobilized the entire district to help.

The outpouring of donations and assistance enabled Pilgrim’s Inn to furnish all three apartments and house families in need.

“The response was tremendous,” said Juanita Lester, Pilgrim’s Inn operations director, calling the district’s donations a huge help and an answer to a prayer.

“As families transition from the shelter to the apartments, they have no furniture, and when it comes time for them to leave the apartments, we would let them take the furniture with them,” Lester said. “Usually, they’d come into the shelter with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

In the past, Pilgrim’s Inn would receive enough furniture donations to be able to quickly refurnish the apartments for the next residents. But for a variety of reasons, Lester said they received very few furniture donations over the past year, and three of the homes were unfurnished—and, therefore, unoccupied.

But when Sutton heard about the vacancies and learned Pilgrim’s Inn could help three families if only they had proper furnishings, she stepped up.

“I knew our district could do something like this because of the connection we have with our churches,” Sutton said, noting it also fit in well with the district’s focus on poverty. “Maybe one church couldn’t do all of this, but I knew a district of United Methodist churches could do it and do it well.”

Sutton developed an Excel spreadsheet listing items needed, and Rock Hill UMCs responded immediately, donating everything from couches to beds to dressers and more. Unlike many of the donations Pilgrim’s Inn receives, a lot of the items that district churches donated were brand-new, intact, high-quality items. The beds were complete, with the hardware all taped on and ready to assemble.

“It was awesome,” said Emily Ward, Pilgrim’s Inn administrative assistant who coordinated much of the furnishing effort.

Once they had the furniture, Pilgrim’s Inn held a workday Aug. 27 to clean and set up the apartments in preparation for occupancy, and Rock Hill United Methodists came to help then, too. Ward said she was particularly impressed with Bettie Blacksome of Heath Memorial UMC, who joined Pilgrim’s Inn volunteers armed with cleaning supplies and spent all morning working diligently with the cleanup crew.

“Ms. Bettie was on her hands and knees in the bathroom, cleaning and putting things together. She was an older woman amongst college students, but she was out there helping us, showing leadership!” Ward said. “The degree to which these people would come and help was amazing.”

The district also donated $250 to help Pilgrim’s Inn with additional needs.

Lester said the help they received from Rock Hill district churches renewed her faith in people, in the community and in the church as a whole.

“It showed me The United Methodist Church is a community which not only commits but fulfills that commitment,” Lester said. “A lot of times, our clients have a them/us mentality. They’ve lost their belief in people and humanity, even lost their belief in themselves. As a person who loves God, to see the relief on a family’s faces, to see the children when they walk into the room, to see someone who doesn’t have anything be able to have all this, is just uplifting and completely heartfelt.

“Now they can see how love transcends and that God provides.”

Sutton said love is what it’s all about.

“God calls us to love our neighbors. This is one of the ways we can reach out in love,” Sutton said. “As said in Matthew 25, it’s a Kingdom mandate.”

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