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Bernard Clark stopped to compose himself.
Surrounded by fellow residents of the Cherry Street Mission, along with residents of Sparrow’s Nest and CedarCreek church members, he briefly ignored the plate of food in front of him and got lost in conversation with CedarCreek member Greg Scerba about the church. Maybe it was the generosity of the moment. Maybe it was the genuine sense of community. Clark became overwhelmed. But then he smiled.
In that moment, he found a new purpose. He now wants to join CedarCreek.
“I see people losing their minds on the street,” Clark said. Some of them could use the church. “It can change their lives.”
The holidays can be especially tough for those who, in at least a material sense, may seem to have little for which to be thankful. But there are moments, such as Thursday evening at CedarCreek, that can serve as glimmers of hope. Rarely do those moments happen without a pair of helping hands.
Dozens of residents of Cherry Street Mission and its women’s division, Sparrow’s Nest, took part in a holiday celebration Thursday at CedarCreek’s Perrysburg Township campus.
Residents were served meals, were given presents, and were treated to live entertainment. CedarCreek also held a Christmas service for residents, volunteers, and staff. CedarCreek estimated about 200 residents and staff, along with hundreds of volunteers, participated in the event at the campus, 29129 Lime City Rd.
Tom Martin, lead pastor at the Perrysburg Township campus, said the event was a chance to have residents sit down with the congregation at dinner together and celebrate. Many of the residents have hit bottom and have decided to make positive changes in their lives.
“It’s our goal to recognize that,” Mr. Martin said, “and inspire them.”
Clark certainly seemed inspired. He’s lived at the mission for months, after moving out of a cousin’s home. It’s not the first time he’s needed help.
For years he’s struggled to get onto his feet. He has a criminal record. In 2010, he told a reporter, he was staying at the Salvation Army shelter while trying to turn his life around. Felony convictions made it hard to find work.
But after treatment, Clark said he’s trying to find a new path, and maybe go back to school.
He gets up at 4 a.m., meditates, stretches, and works out. He heads over to Cherry Street’s kitchen, where he works through the mission’s LINK program. It teaches residents basic job skills, fills in work history, and requires residents to work at least 21 hours a week.
He’s applied for a job at a new Toledo restaurant and feels good about his chances.
And just last week he caught up on child support that he owed. If he can find full-time work, he can keep up with the payments, find his own apartment, hopefully stay clean. And after Thursday, he’s found a new goal to reach.
Sometimes, it’s a celebration dinner that brings the holiday spirit. Other times, it’s the reminder that, if nothing else, a family has stayed together.
For Peter Dashner, keeping his family together was paramount when hard times struck.
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Mr. Dashner had always prided himself on being able to take care of his family and, as a truck driver, he was always able to make sure the bills were paid and food was on the table.
But the discovery of black mold in their apartment shook the family’s stability and threatened to separate them.
“I had to move my family out,” said Mr. Dashner, 51, of Toledo. “But we had nowhere to go, so we came here.”
Although most shelters cater to either women and children or just men, Family House Shelter kept Mr. Dashner, his wife, and three daughters together.
“We were leery about having to go to a shelter because we didn’t want to be separated,” Mr. Dashner said. “But they kept us together. It was really a blessing.”
Despite moving into their own home two months ago, the Dashners were again welcomed at Family House for a Christmas celebration, complete with gifts for the children and festive treats for the family.
As the holidays draw near, Family House has presents for the children and a hearty meal for the families. But once the holidays are over, the struggle resumes.
Recent budgets cuts forced the shelter to eliminate its food service program, which provided a catered dinner to the shelter’s 103 residents daily. State regulations prevent the shelter from operating in-house food service.
Now, residents buy their own groceries and use microwaves to prepare food.
Eight of 10 of Family House families receive food stamps, and Family House supplies groceries for those who don’t, said Renee Palacios, executive director.
“We do our best to make sure it’s nutritious, but oftentimes it’s sandwiches.” Several meals have been sponsored for the holiday season and throughout the year on weekends. Mrs. Palacios said the shelter needs more.
“We need organizations and groups to adopt the shelter and help feed our families,” she said.
Family House is funded by the city and private donations. On average, the shelter spends $700 a month for paper products and cleaning supplies, including paper plates, napkins, and toilet paper.
“Can you imagine cold and flu season in a house of 103 people?” Mrs. Palacios asked.
“If we could get the community to donate these items, that means more money we have to spend on programming and services.”
Family House serves about 800 people a year, 500 of whom are children.
It provides emergency shelter in dormitory-style rooms for families, child care, and preschool for children.
The center’s empowerment programs focus on helping families regain their independence and connecting them with needed services.
Many programs, including the shelter’s library, computer lab, food pantry, and clothing closet, are run by volunteers.
“Our doors are open to people who want to and have a passion to serve,” Mrs. Palacios said.
“If you have a skill, a passion, or something you can do, we’re open to it.”
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.