Spencer on Galloway’s Grace Place
Eddie Spencer is pastor of church and society at Galloway United Methodist Church. Spencer has served in the position for nearly six years. He recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about Galloway’s ministries to the homeless, in particular, Grace Place. He is the author of two books: “Inmate 46857,” and “Put Out the Fire: How to Control Your Anger before it Destroys Your Life.”
Tell me about the homeless ministries at Galloway.
“Grace Place is our main ministry. We provide meals four days a week – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; and we also have a coffee and Danish time for our guests who are homeless, which we call ‘Feed My Sheep.’ It’s a time to come in on Sunday morning. Also, we distribute clothes. We do that once a week. There are some people when they come in, who are in such bad condition and have not showered, and we provide a shower for them. We help with IDs, especially for those who are coming out of prison and do not have any type of identification. We help them with that, because without that, they’re not able to cash a check, get a job – they’re not able to do anything without an ID. For our guests who need rehab, we try to place them with some of the (free) rehab programs.”
How many people do you serve?
“From 90 to close to 100 a day. Sometimes, we may get over 100. Sometimes, we may get about 80.”
Since you’ve been involved with Grace Place, has the number of people you’ve served grown?
“We have seen a growth. A lot of times, it will be people coming out of prison or Whitfield. We’re seeing some families (come in) who are going through a transition – a loss of a job or something like that. But for the majority, we have a regular group that comes every day. You have some who know about Galloway who might just be coming through (the area). We had had two young men who were let out of prison in Greenwood. They caught the bus, had a layover in Jackson, and were told if they wanted to get something to eat to go to Grace Place. They were leaving on a bus going to the coast.”
How does it make you feel to know that Grace Place is able to have such a wide reach?
“I wish there was not a need, but since there is a need, I’m glad that Galloway Church made the decision that they want to be here for the community.
“A lot of people don’t just come here for the meal. We have a team of people who have their best interests at heart. They (our guests) know they are loved. We can’t solve all of their problems, but the resources we have, we make sure they get. Our resources do not come from the government or grants, but partner churches who help us carry out that ministry.”
What is your budget?
“There are times we put out to the church, ‘this is what we need,’ and the church always provides. We say we need some shoes to give, and different churches might do a shoe drive for us. Colleges like Millsaps might do a shoe drive. As far as trying to operate off a budget, we don’t.”
What type of breakfast do guests get at Grace Place?
“It’s not just breakfast. Today, we had chili mac, cabbage greens, cornbread, desert, coffee and water. You have the entree, the vegetable, bread and dessert.”
Who prepares the food?
“We have a young man named Charles Dupree who is our main cook. He prepares the meals. We also have what we call a ‘cook day,’ once a month … where we try to pull together so many different casseroles and things we can freeze and take out throughout the week. We might have 40 different pans of chili mac, tater tot casserole, chicken spaghetti – all the things that will stretch. We make sure that (our guests) are also able to get seconds and leave here full.”
How many people volunteer for Grace Place, to help make the program a success?
“We have at least a minimum of 15. Sometimes, we get up to 30. We might have special groups that come in – churches, youth groups, groups like Leadership Greater Jackson. But we have about 15 (regulars) who are faithful.”
What are the biggest needs of the homeless community, from your perspective?
“There are some people who cannot live independently and take care of a house by themselves. They need to be taught not only how to become responsible, but how to manage money. Some people might receive resources, but instead of lasting one month, they’re gone in one day, because they have habits that (take) everything they get. Those who are coming out of prison need help (transitioning) before they get out, so when they come out, they can say, ‘I know I’ve got something waiting on me – a job,’ instead of ‘I don’t have an ID. I don’t have a job. I still have to pay my parole officer. I have to find a place to stay, but I don’t have a job.’”
Are there plans for Grace Place to expand its services?
“Right now, there is a possibility that Grace Place might expand, but we want to do what we are doing (now) and do it well, rather than try to do so many things and not do them well. That’s the longevity of Grace Place – doing what we do and being there. Grace Place is celebrating 10, going on 11 years and working with the resources we have.”
How has Grace Place changed since you’ve been there?
“Leigh Buckner Smith, director of missions and outreach, has expanded partnerships with our (donors). We even have health clinics to bring resources to people here. We (recently) had a free screening for TB; UMMC (the University of Mississippi Medical Center), just recently, did some dental work for our guests. Tapping those resources, she has done really well.”
What is changing about the homeless/needy population?
“Homelessness is not just people who are sleeping on the street, but people who have a home and a but not enough money to provide food for the month. You can hear the hurt. Some people have found themselves in a place they didn’t anticipate. They have no drug habit, but because of a lack of work or a medical problem, or a divorce (they have a need).
“I’ll never forget when I was an assistant pastor at Alta Woods (United Methodist Church). We had a food ministry – people could come in and get so much. We’d try to give them a week’s worth of meals. A lady came in, she was driving a $40,000 or $50,000 vehicle, dressed well. You knew she was not the typical person that needed to come in and ask for food. I had to apologize to her, because I said she didn’t need any food. The lady sat there with tears in her eyes and said, ‘Yes, I have to have that car to get my kids to school and to go and find another job. Yes, I have that car (because) at one time, I was making $70,000 a year and was working at WorldCom. Now, I’ve got $70,000 in bills and a $30,000-a-year job, and I need help.’ I had to apologize to that lady, and say, ‘I’m sorry I judged you.’”
How did that change you?
“It changed me to (make me) sit down and hear what a person has to say. A lot of times, there are people who just need help one time. But at the same time, we want to be there for those individuals, to be an encouragement to them and help them tap into other resources and help them move on.”