There are thousands of homeless people throughout our nation and a multitude of programs that offer aid and assistance. One such program, found locally here on Fort Myers Beach is known as “God’s Table” located at the Chapel by the Sea. Formally an ecumenical program that has been serving the community for 14 years it is internally described as the Community Cooperative. Community Cooperative took it over 2 years ago when asked to step in by the program director who at the time was having a bout of bad health.
God’s Table offers daily assistance and aid to the homeless through the untiring efforts of its volunteers. Every morning at 7:00 volunteers gather at the Chapel by the Sea to offer a safe place where food is shared, clothing is provided, showers are available and a sack lunch is prepared to hand out.
The volunteers at God’s Table are guided by compassion and share a common goal to help those in need. One example is Darc Graffam who has volunteered at the program for the past two and a half years.
“I don’t do it for my own self-satisfaction but to honor God because he told me to take care of the poor and I love to cook,” said Graffam with an effervescent smile on her face.
Another who feel the need to serve our local homeless is Charlotte Walters who has been volunteering at God’s Table for about a year.
“I feel blessed” she said while packing up sack lunches, “if I can help in some way,” she added.
In addition to God’s Table every Friday at 7:30am there is an onsite Family Health Center Homeless Clinic, a program put in place to aid and assist individuals who meet the criteria (essentially being without Medicaid or Medicare coverages).
The volunteers at God’s Table are obviously dedicated to serving the poor and encourage others to help them in their daily service of compassion. If you are interested or willing to volunteer with the folks at God’s Table, then visit them at Chapel by the Sea, where any of the regular volunteers will be happy to find a place for you.
When asked why she chose to volunteer at God’s Table, another well-known local, Gretchen Johnson, who has been at God’s Table approximately two years, was clear with conviction.
“I must do something for my fellow man,” said Johnson.
The number of services offered to the homeless on the Beach at God’s Table are notable. They have a Nurse Practitioner on site that sees patients as well as Pharmacy and Prescription assistance.
The volunteers at God’s Table enjoy helping out so much that even when they are shorthanded during the off-season, summer months, they still persevere to get the job done.
There are some in the community that question why the same people seem to always be at the Table. When asked if they see a lot of the same faces, Graffam replied affirmatively.
“Yes its heart breaking to see some of them who don’t want to be helped but some are in situations where they are unable to help themselves such as a disability or they may lack family and relationships,” she explained.”
Fort Myers Beach has other services available to its residents such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Monday thru Friday between 9:00 & 10:00 a.m. 365 days of the year and Wednesday during Beach season St. Vincent offers services such as budget counseling, rent assistance, emergency transportation, referral services, assistance with utility bills, bus passes, and food vouchers as well as a food pantry. They also house a representative from the Veterans Administration and the Salvation Army to assist veterans applying for medical benefits and pensions as well as, assessing individuals for case management services.
Looking elsewhere around Florida, it became quite clear that other communities take a less compassionate approach to the homeless.
Sarasota Florida recently lifted a law against “flying signs” in December of 2015. A panhandler can now go out and fly a sign to make $20 in an hour. Before the law was lifted it could have cost up to $500 in fines or up to 60 days in jail but Sarasota has now become a haven for panhandlers. The law was lifted allowing the homeless to solicit money from people in their vehicles, because the ACLU felt it infringed upon their constitutional right to freedom of speech. As a result there has been an influx of homeless pouring in to Sarasota because of the newly passed laws. With all the panhandlers coming in and lining their medians and roadways city officials plan to review this updated ordinance that will permit the police to arrest panhandlers in the street and on the medians.
The question on everybody’s mind is when are we extending our hand too far and how far do we go to help those in need.