'It’s fascinating work. It’s challenging work. But we’re helping people in Flagler County every day," Chairperson Sue Bickings said.
Sue Bickings used to be a teacher and counselor at Buddy Taylor Middle School and Bunnell Elementary School. She recalls seeing multiple families struggle over the years. Parents who worked relentlessly but couldn’t make ends meet. Kids who arrived to school hungry, in tattered clothes and without school supplies.
Bickings, a member of the First United Methodist Church of Bunnell, couldn’t stand by. She had to act.
Bickings has been involved with The Sheltering Tree, a cold weather shelter at First United Methodist used by the homeless in Flagler County, since 2009.
“As a church member, I was someone who was interested in supporting the work of the church,” said Bickings, who is now the shelter’s chairperson. “It’s fascinating work. It’s challenging work. But we’re helping people in Flagler County every day.”
The Sheltering Tree held its third-annual “Have a Heart for the Homeless” fundraiser on the night of Sunday, March 10, at the Elks Lodge in Palm Coast. The event raised $11,645, all of which goes directly to providing for the area’s homeless and nearly homeless.
The money is used to provide food, tents, sleeping bags, bikes and so on for the homeless. In addition, The Sheltering Tree also helps the “nearly homeless” by helping them pay utility bills, medical bills and more.
“There are lots of people in Flagler County who are one step away from losing their home,” Bickings said.
Vice Chairperson Martin Collins added: “It’s not all about alcohol or drug abuse. It’s also about people leaving domestic violence, lack of affordable housing, mental and physical disabilities, an unstable family situation. And some times, alcohol and drug abuse is a symptom of homelessness rather than a cause.”
Terry Wines has been the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Bunnell for the past four years. He was placed their because of his experience with homeless ministries.
The shelter, which opens when temperatures are either at or below 40 degrees, can house about 30 individuals inside the church’s fellowship hall. They also provide breakfast and dinner.
Wines sees society’s homeless problem as one that most likely can’t be solved. But that doesn’t stop him, or others like him, from trying.
“Our job is to help the people who have lost hope by providing that hope for them,” Wines said. “That begins by providing them with a place to lay their head, a place where they can feel safe. … And supplying food, shelter, comfort and hope, as far as I’m concerned, that’s part of what’s needed to help make disciples.”