Church opens its doors, heart for homeless to keep warm
By Chris Green
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR
(originally posted Feb 11, 2007, no longer in print – see below for an update and another link) You can find a copy of the original hereROCKFORD — The thermostat in the sanctuary at First Christian Church is set at a toasty 75 degrees. The only thing warmer Tuesday in the tiny house of worship was homemade chicken soup and the hearts of those who served it, the Revs. Alphonzo and Barbara Heath.
The husband and wife pastors have opened up the doors of their southwest side church at 325 Heath St. to serve as an impromptu warming center and 24-hour, seven-days-a-week shelter for the homeless.
Barbara Heath said local weather reports last week on the evening news predicting the current spell of sub-zero temperatures prompted the church to start the fledgling ministry.
“When I was looking at the news, they said the temperatures were going to be life threatening. I said, ‘We don’t have enough places for people to go to in the city.’ I told my husband, ‘We’re opening the church.’ I just felt it’s our responsibility.”
Coinciding with the arrival of the arctic blast Sunday, the Heaths not only have welcomed the homeless, they are feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, fruit, coffee and tea is available. All is provided with funds from the 25-member congregation, outside donations and the Heaths’ own pockets.
In the basement of the church, a small kitchen is where the smell of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and other nightly meals have originated and lofted throughout the 1,100-square-foot building. The basement also is where large squares of cardboard have been taped together, spread on the floor and topped with blankets on which the guests may sleep. In another corner of the basement, those same guests congregate during the day to watch TV, play cards and read magazines.
“A local business owner/Christian brought two checks, one for $100 and one for $150,” she said. “Somebody gave my husband $60 and another person gave $40.” More moving than the monetary donations were the offerings from a woman who learned of the church’s shelter and brought blankets. “And you know what? She took her coat off and left it, too,” Heath said.
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ROCKFORD ILL. Ivy Mims wasn’t sure what she was going to do for Thanksgiving dinner.Mims, who works two jobs and is working toward becoming a registered nurse, said her busy schedule and tight budget usually mean a baloney sandwich or TV dinner for eats.
Things weren’t going to be too different this Thanksgiving. While traveling down State Street in downtown Rockford with Joseph Diaz, she on foot and he in his wheelchair, they got a pleasant surprise – a sleek black limousine pulled up next to them offering a ride and a good meal.
Quincy Heath, owner of Heath Limousine, picked up nearly 40 people on Thursday to give them a luxury ride to First Christian Church, 325 Heath St., for a free meal. (Oldtimer’s note: Quincy is Alphonzo’s brother)
Mims, who is Diaz’s personal assistant, said she didn’t know anything about the free meal but quickly found out Heath was for real.
Heath picked up passengers from the Rockford Rescue Mission, bus stops and other locations in town. Many were homeless or poor, others just might not be able to scrape up enough cash or time to cook a quality meal. Heath and First Christian Church gave them a chance to get a little first-class treatment.
“A lot of people don’t have and they don’t know what it is like to have,” Heath said.
For years, pastors Barbara and Alphonzo Heath had quiet family dinners on Thanksgiving, but for the last two years, they wanted to branch out.
“Melannie Boston, who moved gingerly on a swollen ankle, had fallen on hard times. She and fiance Richard Bockewitz are living paycheck to paycheck and constantly on the move, finding different places to stay.
“They let us have luxury for just one day; it was nice,” Boston said. “They care enough to take time from their family to help us here.”