I was first introduced to the battle buddy concept by a barely 20-year-old Army crewman. He had come from another state in the middle of the night last year to be at the bedside of his dying mother, a member of our Micah community who had fallen ill and never regained consciousness. While those from his own squadron were not able to accompany him, the Army sent two representatives from a sister unit to help him through that difficult time. The night they removed his mom from life support turned into days that all three of them kept constant vigil. They brought meals, coaxed the son out of the hospital room and encouraged him to share story after story of fonder moments with his mom. Having watched any number of our street friends die with no one by their side and sometimes not a soul to claim their body, I was compelled by the third day to inquire what inspired their diligence. In the Army, they explained, soldiers are assigned a battle buddy as built in support both in and out of combat. It is these bonds that build trust, promote courage and keep soldiers motivated in the face of insurmountable odds.
I have thought often of this story this last month, and not just because of the accompaniment we all crave in this time of health risk, economic crisis and social distancing. Like a soldier in wartime, Micah’s essential services have not stopped in the midst of global pandemic. While the way we do ministry has been turned upside down by CoVid-19, we have been incredibly touched by those who have stepped up to come alongside the churches of Fredericksburg and our Micah neighbors.
Here are just a few examples:
• Community meal groups, which historically feed 100-150 people three meals a day, 365 days of the year, have transformed their compassion into to-go style choices distributed through our hospitality center on Princess Anne St. We remain in awe of their creativity and commitment, even buying food from local restaurants to support the economy while feeding folks.
• With support of local donors, we have so far arranged for 64 of our street homeless to utilize socially-distanced hotel rooms as a place in which to shelter. Our prayer remains that, even for a moment, we just might get everyone off the street.
• The Micah team has persisted with an urgency for moving people into housing and increasing their income. Seventeen people have moved from the street to stablity in the last month!
• Volunteers, including members of our street community, have abundantly delivered food, made phone calls, supported needs virtually, cleaned our buildings, dropped off toilet paper and hand sanitizer, made masks, and done whatever it takes to keep us going.
Our neighbors are surviving this season because of the battle buddies who have come alongside them in these unprecedented times. The war, however, is just beginning; and we are going to need all the support we can get to persevere in our mission—cultivating community and caring for neighbors.
Most immediately, we are concerned for the well-being of our neighbors on the street. Many of them were aging and already in poor health before the pandemic, and their living situations exacerbate risk under current circumstances. They do not have easy access to hand washing and cannot “stay home” in order to maintain physical distance. In fact, they often survive through community resources, many of which have had to shut down or move to virtual contact that they are ill-equipped to access.
With these challenges in mind, the Micah hospitality center has maintained normal business hours, minimized the number of people in our building and enhanced use/distribution of personal protective equipment. Likewise, with added precautions, our respite program remains fully operational for the sickest members of our homeless community. Although our housing team is working as remotely as possible, they continue to seek out landlords, coordinate furniture and maintain supports toward stability. Our income development staff is busier than ever, helping our folks connect with the recent surge in cleaning and grocery stocking jobs.
While we are doing everything we have always done, if not more, there is great uncertainty about the rising cost of evolving, unbudgeted needs. For example, minimizing transportation provided by staff and volunteers has increased costs for bus and taxi fare. Allowing staff to work remotely has meant purchasing phones and minutes for those who cannot afford them. With hope that our homeless neighbors might also have a place in which to shelter, we are diligently raising funds to keep as many as possible in hotel rooms through the end of June. Because we cannot bear the thought of returning people to the street after ten plus weeks of shelter, we are praying to buy enough time that permanent housing solutions can be arranged, as well. We need as many of our current neighbors stabilized as possible so that we are best equipped for new homelessness that is likely to arise from the current economic crisis.
We need you now, more than ever, to prayerfully consider how you might be a battle buddy to our Micah community in the current crisis. In the midst of these new challenges, we are also trying to cover a $1.6 million budget with donor investments, government budgets and grant resources that are tenuous at best. Please consider making a gift that helps us cultivate community and care for neighbors in this crisis. We can also use your time and talents in any number of socially distanced volunteer roles. Please contact Chelsea Morse or call 540-693-0055 if you would like to volunteer. You can also keep up with the ways our ministry and needs are evolving by following us on Facebook and updating your contact information..
May you and your family remain safe and healthy in this crisis. We pray that you too will be flush with battle buddies in the face of these challenging times.