By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
SALISBURY, Md.—Love ‘em like Jesus.
Hope And Life Outreach (HALO) started as a ministry of Oak Ridge Church (ORBC), but by simply following their mission statement, it grew so quickly that it had to become a separate entity.
Since beginning seven years ago, HALO has started at least nine outreach ministries, with over 700 volunteers from ORBC and other area churches and businesses, who seek to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of the homeless and the hurting.
HALO offers a variety of meal programs, including its very own restaurant, the HALO Café, which opened in Jan. 2010, as well as HALO on the Streets (H.O.T.S.), which provides meals to homeless individuals and families who live in the area and are unable to come to the HALO Café. Over 42,000 meals, breakfast and dinner, have been served since the doors opened.
“Meal serving is not just about serving a meal; It’s about building relationships and demonstrating God’s love,” shared HALO’s executive director, Celeste Savage.
HALO also hosts holiday meals, including “Fill My Cup” Easter and “Be Our Guest” Thanksgiving dinners, where the homeless and hurting in the area are waited upon in a fine dining atmosphere.
Since Nov. 21, 166 guests have passed through HALO’s doors during its “Code Blue” emergency shelter for women and mothers with children. The night shelter, hosted in a gigantic warehouse space converted into individual sleeping areas, allows women and children a safe and warm place to obtain respite from the streets.
Each night, guests eat a hot meal together, participate in devotions and perform chores to help in the upkeep of the shelter. A separate entertainment area allows the guests a chance to unwind by reading or watching TV or simply to be loved on by HALO volunteers.
Beginning at the end of June or early July, HALO’s shelter will expand to accommodate individuals during the day as well in “A One-Stop Homeless Day Center.”
While in the shelter, women are encouraged to take advantage of HALO’s other programs, namely the Resource Connection, a community-based, one-stop-shop for individuals and families looking for a hand up, not a hand out; the Journey of Hope, an 18-month to 2-year phased program structured within a scriptural, Christian-based environment designed to assist in life change and management; and HALO Reads, a confidential, one-to-one literacy coaching opportunity.
Another ministry is HALO’s thrift ministry through its Bargain Center, which provides quality clothing, furniture, household goods and electronics at affordable prices. Participants who meet the criteria for HALO’s Journey of Hope program are entitled to a Home At Last Voucher, which allows them to furnish their new home with items from the Bargain Center.
Other outreach activities include an Adopt-a-Family ministry where HALO matched donors with families in need, providing a “Christmas” wish list for each child in the family. This past Christmas, HALO donors adopted over 700 children, enabling the families to experience the true meaning of Christmas.
Finally, donations of all food, clothing and household items are dropped off at HALO’s Community Outreach Center, a centralized location where items are sorted and organized for best use.
HALO relies heavily on donations from individuals, businesses and churches. They consistently organize donation drives so that people of all ages can get involved. HALO clients benefit from a HUGS (Hats, Underwear, Gloves, and Socks/Scarves) effort in the winter, a “Cool Down” bottled water, sunscreen and insect repellant drive in the summer, as well as ongoing “Great Scrub-Up” and “Soap and Suds” cleaning and hygiene supplies drives. They even encourage “The Great Paper Chase” drive for donated toilet paper and other paper goods.
Food from drives, such as a “Stock the Pantry” and “Christmas in July,” are used to serve the homeless and hungry in the HALO Café, serve the homeless on the streets through the HALO on the Street (HOTS) ministry and fill food boxes for families in need. They encourage donors to hold “Back to School Mania” drives to feed children and “Souper Bowl” drives for canned soup to be held on or near SuperBowl Sunday.
To an outsider, HALO’s ministry is overwhelming, but to Savage, who has a degree in social work from Salisbury University, it’s a testimony of the power of God. She credits a failed business for opening her eyes to the needs and equipping her to serve and develop these ministries over the past seven years.
“Losing the Motorcoach touring business was the best thing that happened to me,” she said, explaining that facing her own financial crisis helped her understand that homeless people are not bad people. They’re just homeless.
Still driving school buses, Savage drove a different route one day and saw a homeless person’s bedroll sitting under a tree in a Salisbury neighborhood.
“I completely lost it!” she recalled. For two weeks, she tried to find the owner of the bedroll, driving by different times throughout the day. “At 1 a.m. in the morning, I finally found him!”
His name was Rick, a real live person that Savage wanted to help.
“God was really working on me,” she said, explaining that she was “the person who said, ‘Get a job!’ I was the one who was giving a hot dog, but no more.”
But Savage’s heart was changing, and she soon felt called into a homeless ministry. At the same time, ORBC also was hearing the call. When Savage inquired at the church, she learned that leaders had met once already to discuss how to help the homeless in the area.
She went to the next meeting and over time, Savage’s desire to help expanded into full time ministry. She can share about miracle after miracle when other impassioned people have joined in the cause, either giving of their time or their resources to help the least fortunate.
Over and over, usually just in the nick of time, God provided food, clothing, property, and financial resources—even a $500,000 check—to see the ministry become a reality.
Throughout the entire process, HALO has gone above board in ensuring that all building and operation codes are followed and has become the “go to” place for people facing homelessness. HALO’s seven board members, primarily consisting of community business executives, assist Savage in strong Christian leadership and relationship building with other area businesses and the local court system.
“It’s been a ride out of this world!” exclaimed Savage, who’s been awarded the “Frank H. Morris Humanitarian Award;” Junior Achievement’s “Woman of the Year” Award; and the Soroptimist “Best for Women” Award, which recognize women who make changes in the community.
“Since taking on the role of director, I’ve seen the urgency of reaching people. We have to do whatever it takes to reach them. It can be frustrating and hard, but if you can look through their eyes and into their souls… you know the answer they need. It’s Jesus Christ!”