BPUMC students run overnight donation drive for homeless

Cardboard boxes lining the grass outside Bluff Park United Methodist Church served as makeshift overnight shelters for 21 students Nov. 10.

For the second year, students in sixth through 12th grades participated in One Night for the Homeless and Veterans, an event doubling as a clothing drive for those in need and an outlet for students to distribute information about the church’s Veteran’s Leadership Ministry.

“In Hoover, we just don’t see the homeless. We don’t hear the issues veterans face,” Director of Student Ministries Bart Styes said. “This is a great opportunity for students. This is a helpful thing for them to gain some empathy for people in these circumstances.”

Each time someone dropped off a donation, the students loaded the items onto a church van and gave the donor an information sheet about the ministry.

The event was especially meaningful for several students who have family members in the military.

Ninth grader John Michael Williamson, whose father is in the Air Force, had high hopes for the effectiveness of this year’s event.

“A lot of people are willing to support us and support veterans,” Williamson said.

Along with spending the night outside in 30-degree temperatures, students heard from Vietnam veteran Charlie Trucks and Anne Wright, executive director of the Firehouse Shelter, about hardships those who are homeless or who have returned home from combat might face, and ways the community can help them.

The only food students received during the event were grilled cheese sandwiches.

“We are hopeful that donations come in because this has been a ministry that has not been seen,” sixth grader Will Thompson said.

According to the information sheet, the VLM mission is “to provide a safe haven of acceptance and healing to men and women quietly suffering from the hidden wounds of war,” and it offers veterans and their families opportunities to develop trusting, caring relationships with VLM volunteers; valuable partners in understanding the array of resources available and act as guides as needed; and a commitment to long-term relationships that include mutual respect and support.

Hannah Lagan said she hoped the event would draw many donations. She and her brother, Matthew, both participated. Their father is currently serving in the U.S. Army.

“We’re just really excited about it,” Hannah said, adding, “It’s going to be cold.”

VLM is one of several branches of “Loving The 35226,” a website operated by Bluff Park UMC to fulfill the needs of residents in the community.

Also, Bluff Park UMC is one of the founding churches in AmeriClergyCorps, a unified system for more than 12,000 churches of all faiths in Alabama to make a collective impact on the holistic wellbeing of veterans and their families.

Those interested in supporting the effort should contact Col. Stretch Dunn (USA Ret.) at dunnst@bellsouth.net or the Rev. Mike Holly, senior minister of Bluff Park UMC, at 822-0910.

For more information, visit Veteransleadershipministry.org.

“We’re trying, every chance we get, to find real, meaningful ways to help people in our community,” Styes said.