The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 15, 2013

Church drop-in provides homeless, others a social place to gather

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — It’s a place to go to get out of the cold. It’s a place to see a friendly place. It’s a place where, if only for a few hours, you can watch a little television, grab a doughnut and, if you’re lucky, make a few friends.

Since early January, the doors at Centenary United Methodist Church have opened weekdays from 8-10 a.m. to anyone who wants to come in.

To those who come, there are tables to sit at. Food to feed upon. Coffee to drink. And a host of friendly souls.

The hours of operation, by the way, are no accident.

It opens up at 8 a.m. because that’s when the people using the Salvation Army’s men’s shelter must vacate the premises. Church member Joe Farnham said their goal was to give people with no place to go a place for gathering, staying warm and seeing friendly faces.

“I have met more people down on their luck, and they’re just nice people,” Farnham said. “And they can quote more Scripture to me than anybody in our church.”

Since opening Jan. 2, Farnham says they’ve had anywhere from 10 to 35 people in the church.

One of them is Paul Teigen, originally from Jackson but who has resided in Mankato for several years. Teigen is homeless, so after leaving the men’s shelter, he comes to the church. At first he simply came for the warmth and food. Eventually, he was tapped to volunteer for the program.

He said he likes to come to the church each morning because of the variety of people he meets.

“It fills my mornings,” he said. “It gives me an opportunity to do some different things, meet new people.”

The church offers coffee and juice, doughnuts, fruit, oatmeal and some home-baked items.

Farnham said a few trends have emerged in food consumption. They don’t like the fancy stuff, he said. A church member who has donated money and food for the program, sometimes bakes fresh scones. But those get passed over in many cases in favor of a more traditional cinnamon roll. Oatmeal also hasn’t gone over well.

Darryl Thompson is among those who come daily. Thompson can be seen around town with his faithful companion of 15 years, his dog Joe. He said he tries to help the church out by picking up garbage and beverage cans that litter the streets that stretch past the church.

“I come here because he enjoys coming here,” Thompson says, gesturing to Joe. “I enjoy coming here, too. I like to socialize and saying hello to people.”

Marion Lichtenberg said she comes because she knows many of the people who come here have fallen on hard times. Many are homeless or struggling to make ends meet.

“When you’re alone,” she said, “eating by yourself isn’t fun. “We’re social people. Food isn’t the only thing a body needs.”

Farnham says the idea came from a book called “The Underground Church” by  Robin Meyers. The book, he says, is a call to Christians to take care of their neighbors.

Reading that book, he said, caused him to examine his conscience. That led to him and others brainstorming what they could do to help people who need it. The drop-in idea resulted from that.

The church plans to end the program by April 1, which is the same day the Salvation Army plans its annual springtime closing of the men’s shelter.

One demographic group not represented here are members of the church the program resides in.

Farnham says the program has been mentioned at services. Still, very few church members have come.

“That has been disappointing to me,” he said.