Huddled by a small fire under an overpass, Dawn ate her warm meal and confessed, “I’d never camped a day in my life before being out here.” She is new to homelessness and credits her friend Matthew for helping her acclimate to her new situation. She told us that she once served in Operation Desert Storm, raised a family and worked as a nurse.
Dawn and Matthew are among our neighbors in Kansas City who receive support from Uplift Organization, which serves people facing homelessness. And on the night we met her, she and Matthew both received CWS Blankets. She told us that her new blanket “means more to [me] than anything.” Matthew added, “we are always needing more blankets because our neighbors aren’t always very nice and take our things.”
For a city where negative temperatures are common on winter nights, Uplift Organization is a critical support system for individuals without proper shelter. Church World Service chose to support Uplift with funding from the Heart of America CROP Hunger Walk in Kansas City Missouri in the fall of 2017. A few months later, CWS got word that some of Uplift’s clients had passed away over the holidays in below zero temperatures. We shipped 75 thick, wool CWS Blankets to Uplift for distribution to their clients.
On this particular night – when weather advisories threatened freezing rain – Uplift provided warm meals, hot chocolate and CWS Blankets before the weather hit. Volunteers told CWS staff about how people struggling with homelessness have lost toes, fingers or their lives in freezing temperatures. Kansas City has a population of just under half a million people, and most of those residents can turn on the local news or use their cell phone weather app to know when a storm is coming. For the residents of Kansas City who don’t have a home with a tv or a cell phone, Uplift is the weather service, warning of the weather to come and giving necessary provisions.
The president of Uplift, Kathy Dean, believes “every life is valuable; they are great people, just in a bad situation.” For Kathy, the friendship and fellowship she can extend through Uplift is why she has driven the truck every Monday for 15 years. For 27 years, Uplift has loaded up supplies and driven out to where people congregate who don’t have a place to call home. The fleet of vans go out every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, no matter the weather, serving hundreds of people.
Shouting “Uplift” into the dark on a freezing night, Ross Dessert, one of the van drivers, exemplifies how far the volunteers will go to avoid missing anyone who could use their help. On the coldest nights, people tend to stay hunkered down and will often choose to go hungry rather than come out and brave the cold. Ross and the other volunteers won’t hesitate to venture down into camps underneath bridges. On one occasion, CWS staff witnessed Ross helping a woman who was in shorts and whose leg was injured. Ross took off his weatherproof second layer of pants and gave them to her along with gloves, a hat, blankets, a hot meal, water and hot chocolate. Ross knows most of the folks at each stop, sharing that he is a school teacher and father of six kids. He says, “[I] can’t fix everything, but I can help for a few hours.”
Some volunteers like Susan started after being referred by existing volunteers, inspired by the mercy of the mission. Others like Trinidad have been serving for many years. He started volunteering at Uplift as youth and is now a driver. Trinidad says his work with Uplift helps him to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by sharing hope through tangible things.
Uplift’s warehouse is lined with labeled bins full of clothing, nonperishables and other supplies. Uplift takes orders if there are specific sizes of clothing items or needs. One staple that is always needed, besides the warm meal, are blankets.
Uplift exists because of the generosity of supporters who contribute time and donations. It is also bolstered by partnerships like the one with CWS. Kathy and the volunteers give their time without pay. And yet each meal is made with love, and each care package and blanket spread hope when life has been tough. We are so grateful to congregations across the United States that support the CWS Blankets program and help keep our neighbors warm.