The term "home for the holidays" has a special meaning for a local man being sponsored by Signal Crest United Methodist Church.
Used to living in Tent City on Cameron Hill, he spent Christmas Day in his new fully furnished downtown Chattanooga residence compliments of SCUMC members and will ring in the new year there too.
"The world says a homeless man is an outcast, but that's not how God sees him," said the church's director of missions and outreach Kelley Woodard. "We will take it one step at a time and continue helping him with whatever he needs help with. This is a time when Signal Crest with God's help can make a huge change in the life of someone. To be a part of it is a blessing."
SCUMC is one of several area churches partnering with Methodist-based Chattanooga mission Mustard Tree Ministry, led by the Rev. Barry Kidwell, to help local homeless individuals and families in need of a hand up.
"Our purpose [Mustard Tree Ministry and participating churches] is to work closely with and build relationships with the people that have been living in Tent City on Cameron Hill," said Woodard. "They live there because Cameron Hill is wooded and protected from the elements. Each church has been paired with an individual or couple."
She said First Baptist Church downtown, East Ridge UMC, Christ UMC, First Centenary UMC and Apison UMC are also working closely with the homeless in need of housing, furnishings, food and a job. The Chattanooga Homeless Coalition and BlueCross BlueShield partner with Mustard Tree Ministry to help the homeless as well.
Woodard said the target date to have all the people currently living in Tent City moved into housing is Feb. 1. She said each partnering church will help furnish its adopted individual's new residence with food, supplies and furniture. The churches will continue to partner with the individuals into the new year to keep their electricity on and help them find jobs, she said.
"The response from the man we are helping has been overwhelming," said Woodard. "He's so overwhelmed by the love that complete strangers are showing him."
Prior to Christmas, Signal Crest volunteers unloaded a bed, loveseat, kitchen table, chairs, kitchen supplies, a coffee table, night stand, lamp, rugs and Christmas decor to bring the man's new home to life.
"In the Bible it says in over 3,000 verses to help the poor, orphaned and widowed," said Woodard. "This is a great opportunity for Signal Crest to be Christ-like and to follow out what he wants to do."
She said sometimes it's hard to help someone because it takes people out of their comfort zone, but once someone steps out in faith to help someone else, it's a humbling experience and God takes charge.
Woodard's favorite quote is by Gandhi and says, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." She said she would like to encourage more Chattanooga churches of all denominations to partner with Mustard Tree Ministry to help the homeless in need of housing.