Imagine cooking for 50 hungry people... every day! The Haven of Rest Rescue Mission in Bristol not only feeds the hungry 365 days a year, but also offers nine other services to the Tri-Cities region on an ongoing basis. Such an undertaking requires a huge amount of organization, funding and volunteers. However, The Haven staff takes it all in stride and maintains an amazing, well-run mission to the homeless.
“It can be overwhelming. We have some sleepless nights and we pray a lot,” said Alice Beck, administrative assistant. There are currently 95 volunteers who help in various capacities within the different ministries. “We depend highly on volunteers,” said Alice.
For 62 years, the Haven has ministered to the homeless, hungry, and hurting. Located on 624 Anderson Street, the mission was founded as a gospel rescue mission in 1955 to serve the homeless who came to Bristol by riding the rails. Since then, it has evolved into 10 distinct ministries. Aside from the free dinner offered to the public every evening between 5 and 6 o’clock, other services include long-term transitional housing, women’s housing, family housing, short-term shelters, a food pantry, nightly chapel services, an infant ministry, a recycling program and the Haven Thrift Store.
The shelters provide a place of warmth, a good meal and clothing to homeless people in need. One such person is Jeff Williams, who has been with The Haven since January.
“I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I didn’t want to be on the streets,” he said. Jeff first volunteered in the store and kitchen, but was soon hired as a part-time employee in the kitchen. He and one other staff member are responsible for cooking all of the residents’ meals, as well as the daily meals for the public. Although he has had other job offers, Jeff chose to stay at The Haven. “It is more satisfying and gratifying to be here than chasing a paycheck,” Jeff said.
“Since I came here I’ve dedicated my life to the Lord. I’m so thankful for everything and the people here have been so supportive,” he said. When asked how long he plans to stay at The Haven, he said, “I will stay here as long as they’ll have me. They are wonderful people. They are my family.”
Like Jeff, many have benefited from the well-stocked food pantry at The Haven, which provides a three-day emergency portion of food to individuals in need. Open four days a week, the pantry supplies groceries to nearly 70 people each week. As many as 25 families have been helped in one day. When asked how they manage to keep the pantry stocked for that many people, Alice answered, “God blesses us! We have great partners and several local churches that do food drives for us.” In addition, the Haven furnishes five other food pantries in the community.
A new ministry was recently added by office manager Jacinda Lauman. The Infant Ministry assists families who are in need of baby items. “We offer diapers, wipes, bath products, clothing and other baby items for ages 0-12 months,” she explained. Nearly 60 families have already been helped by the Infant Ministry.
The Haven also hosts preaching, teaching and music every evening at 7:30, which is provided by local churches. The Haven Thrift Store, located at their campus on Pennsylvania Avenue, provides vouchers for free clothing to people in need. Things that do not sell at the thrift store are ‘recycled,’ meaning they are repackaged and sent out for resale to people who reuse it. Both the recycle program and the thrift store help to fund approximately 40 percent of The Haven’s million dollar budget. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization receives no government funding, but relies on donations as well as the income they receive from the store.
The dedicated staff members believe that working at the mission is a calling from God.
“I always felt called to some form of ministry, but didn’t know what it was,” said Executive Director Brian Plank. He called working at The Haven an ‘amazing experience,’ and urges the public to share in their work. The needs are great and donations are essential. Volunteers are needed on an on-going basis, as are cleaning supplies, household products, toiletries and baby items. But Brian stressed that prayers are most important. “First of all, please pray for us,” he said.
Another fun way to support The Haven is to participate in the upcoming Restore Your Sole 5K Run/Walk. It will be held on Saturday, April 7 at the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon. The registration fee is $30, and all proceeds from the event will benefit the mission. For more information about the event, volunteering or making a donation, go to www.havenofrestbristol.org or call 423-968-2011. Updates on specific needs are also available on Facebook.