Help on wheels

Samaritan has gone mobile

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  • | 3:45 a.m. October 20, 2010
Photo by: By Megan Stokes - Word about the Center has grown the fastest at Woodbury Presbyterian Church where the two women help clients from a trailer behind the church.
Photo by: By Megan Stokes - Word about the Center has grown the fastest at Woodbury Presbyterian Church where the two women help clients from a trailer behind the church.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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It’s been a decade since Randy Martin has been able to prove his identity, cash a check or even apply for a new job.

The homeless man said he’s been trying to obtain a copy of his birth certificate for 10 years but has been unsuccessful, until now.

Sheila Sablain, a volunteer with Samaritan Resource Center, a faith-based mobile group that provides services to the homeless or near homeless, was able to fill out the paperwork for him and hand him a copy of his birth certificate.

“It feels good. I feel like I can get on with my life,” said Martin, 48.

Sablin and Karen Akers, another Samaritan volunteer, have been traveling between the three main East Orlando food pantries each week for more than a month.

Converge, a group of about a dozen faith-based leaders, has been working for several years trying to establish a center where East Orlando people in need can get the services they need. They were awarded an $800,000 grant from Orange County last year but have not been able to find land that can fulfill their requirements and restrictions. Sick of waiting, Akers and Sablin stepped up.

So far, their services have been most utilized at Woodbury where the two women are tucked behind the main church in a trailer used otherwise for Sunday school. They sit behind makeshift desks, typing on their personal laptops. They are looking for a donated RV to work out of for both mobility and privacy for their clients.

Most of their clients come for food stamps, including Mike Jantzen, an East Orlando man who’s been looking for work for over a year and is barely hanging on to his apartment.

His unemployment check was recently cut in half, leaving him clueless as to how he’ll pay his $150-a-week rent.

“I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. I’ve never collected anything in my life,” he said. But after the labor pool on East Colonial Drive closed, finding work has been difficult. “I have a list this long of places I’ve put applications in for,” he said, holding his hand above his head. “I’ve been to all the restaurants. I’ll wash dishes, I don’t care.”

The women are seeing nearly a dozen people on Mondays and are now focusing on getting the word out about their presence at Harvest of Hope and First Baptist Union Park.

New Covenant Pastor Charles Baxter said putting up signs advertising for the Center several weeks ago has helped gain more interest.

“The folks that need food are the people who are usually on the edge. They don’t have health insurance, they have issues paying bills, which makes a food pantry an ideal place to do Samaritan,” he said. “It’s all needed here, all the social services.”

The Center has partnered with Homeless Services Network and is hoping to soon have a long list of services available to their clients, including clothing distribution, mental health, help for ex-offenders, job assistance, housing and more. They have already arranged for a Health Care Center for the Homeless Mobile Medical Van and Veteran Affairs specialists to attend on select dates.

Cathy Jackson, HSN executive director, said that once the number of SRC clients gets to about 100 a week, they can start ramping up service, and she’s optimistic that will happen soon.

“We have a limited set of resources and we have to make sure they will be fully utilized before we deploy them,” she said. “From our perspective we’re eventually going to coordinate mobile services from 40 some programs that we fund within the continuum of care to come to the Samaritan Resource Center.”

Food pantries suffering

For the first time in years, Woodbury Presbyterian Church could be faced with a decision to close the pantry one of the two days they’re open. There is not enough food to feed the 400 people coming to the pantry each week and pantry manager Jane Fletcher fears it will only get worse with the holidays.

“Last Monday was the first day we ran out of food,” she said last week. “We don’t want to cut back our services when the need is so great. We’re trying to squeak by.”

And Woodbury is not alone. New Covenant is $13,000 behind in its bills due to an overwhelming shortage in monetary donations. And if they can’t fill that gap in the budget by the end of the year, Baxter said there is no way they can keep their pantry doors open.

First Baptist in Union Park said they are lacking both food and monetary donations.

“It’s always been a challenge but that has increased during these times,” said Pastor Coleman Pratt. “People are always in a better giving mood during the holidays but I can also see an increase in people in need during that time too.”

Help is here

Special appearances

in 2010:

-Health Care Center for the Homeless Mobile Medical Van visit from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Harvest of Hope on Wednesday, Nov. 17 and Woodbury on Monday, Dec. 6.

-The VA will be at First Baptist from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4. After that date, they will hopefully start volunteering for the Center on a regular basis.