By: Katie Sobiech
It was the coldest night of the year. So cold that a local homeless man was found dead, frozen to a rock, in downtown Akron.
“It was 7:00 at night and I got a phone call,” Karen McNeill, Executive Director, said.
Community Support Services wanted to make sure that all of the homeless were taken off of the streets and put into shelters that night.
“Sam”, a man on the streets for seven years and often found lying on the concrete steps of a school underneath a tarp, was out in the freezing temperatures that night.
“I was told that he was frozen to his bed. It was a solid sheet of ice and he was cold, damp and coughing. He wouldn’t come out, so they wanted me to try to get him to come in for some coffee, and change his bedding and take him somewhere,” McNeill said.
McNeill dropped everything she was doing to help rescue Sam. He listened to her because of the special bond they had created through the Springtime of Hope feeding program. He wouldn’t listen to anyone else.
With her help, they ended up getting him into the Courtesy Inn, where he stayed for over a month. McNeill also brought him food there.
A Changed Life
“Through the love and support of everyone, he is now living in the Mayflower,” McNeill said.
“Joe Montana (President of Springtime of Hope) taught him to do laundry and how to use a microwave, and little by little his self-esteem has grown. He would barely even talk before,” she continued.
Sam didn’t use drugs, and he wasn’t addicted to alcohol. It was a mental illness and no one to care for him that left him with nowhere else to turn but the streets.
“You should see him now,” Montana said happily.
“The last thing he said to both of us, looking us in the eyes, before we left was ‘Thank you for getting me off of the streets’,” McNeill shared.
Miracles Every day
“He is one of our miracles at Springtime,” Montana said.
“And that’s what this mission is all about – to get people the help they need,” McNeill added.
“God doesn’t need another Mother Teresa, He doesn’t need another LeBron James, He doesn’t need another Karen or Joe, all He asks is that we become the best version of ourselves that we can be, and serve Him. Be his hands, his mouth, and his heart to those around us – and that’s what we do. We shine there,” McNeill said.
“I am totally convinced that I have truly met Jesus Christ in the eyes of the homeless people. There is no question about it. And not once, but several times, I have served him. I know it for a fact. And if you look into some of their eyes it’s amazing what you see,” Montana shared.
He talked about the times we see a stranger on the street, a person who needs a ride, or someone who is hungry and just pass them by.
“That could be Jesus Christ that you said ‘No…not today… Not today…’ to” he continued.
Holy Spirit Hook
“For years I worked at the hospital and would pass by people that were on the streets and was afraid of them. You judge people, you don’t mean to but you do,” McNeill said, “But we call it the ‘Holy Spirit hook’ because once you get out and meet these people, it’s amazing.”
Those at SOH haven’t turned back since starting their mission for the homeless.
“Jesus had all kinds of people at his feet – the good, the bad, and the in-between. People questioned him every day that he preached asking ‘What are you hanging around those lunatics for?’ ‘What are you hanging around the tax collectors for?’ Those people that in everyone’s minds were not good people. They could have been murderers, but he took everybody in and said ‘Follow me. See what I do and do it. Watch me’,” Montana said.
Poverty will Never Cease to Exist
“God said the poor will always be among us,” Montana said.
“It’s just a small token of our appreciation of the goodness He has bestowed upon us to be able to change the life of someone else. I think it’s fabulous,” he continued.
Montana says that people often say “Somebody has got to do something about this. Why isn’t someone going to do something about this?” -referring to the problems in the world.
“And the same thing exists here. Why doesn’t somebody take the time to find out why this person is holding the sign on the street? Do you think for one moment that most of the people that are out there are trying to scam somebody? Are you serious? Think about it. Think about pride. Do you know what you have to do with your pride and ego before you go out on to the street and hold up a sign at a stop sign? Can you imagine? Would you do it?” he asked.
Tough questions, but somebody’s got to ask them.
Hearts of Gold
“We have over 100 volunteers and each has a specific gift that God’s given them that they just shine in,” McNeill smiled.
McNeill volunteers at both the Barberton and Akron meal missions.
“There was a grandma who would come, who had custody of two small children,” Melissa Klubnik, Treasurer at SOH, explained.
McNeill would watch the children for the grandma, who began leaving them with her for many hours at a time.
“Before you knew it, Karen watched these babies full time. They lived with her for months,” Klubnik said, “She watched them until they were able to get placed into an adoptive foster care situation.”
“She (Karen) is so dedicated. If she knows of someone sleeping out in zero degree weather she will make sure they get a hotel for the night. She’ll go buy them McDonalds. She’s just one of those people that puts others’ needs beyond her own. She’s an amazing volunteer,” Klubnik shared.
“Another story that touches my heart is of Theresa Kilroy,” Klubnik said.
Kilroy prepares home cooked meals every week for St. Bernard’s.
“If they’re having ham; their having potatoes. If they’re having turkey; they’re having stuffing. It’s always a home-style meal. It’s not just soup and a sandwich,” she said.
Kilroy even makes sure they have desert.
“She makes everybody feel like they are truly at a feast. It’s very touching to see. One of the things that amazes me is the dedication of the volunteers because they’re not being paid and their dedication is beyond what you see a paid person giving,” Klubnik said.
Klubnik, who was once a homeless teenager herself, knows how much these acts of kindness can mean to a person.
“Someone helped me when I was 21 years old, and taught me how to believe in myself. They told me I was worth it, and I could go to school even though I had a troubled childhood. And since that happened I’ve been in the helping profession,” she shared.
“I think once you’ve experienced what it’s like to be in pain, and know what it’s like not to have anyone, you always want to be there for someone. Even if it’s just a smile. Even if it’s just a quick ‘How are you?’ Whether it’s someone on the street, a person at the cash register – I don’t think it matters. I think it’s just so important to be there for people. You can’t leave with material things but you can leave with your legacy of how you treated people,” Klubnik said, with a sparkle of joy in her eye.
If you would like to be a part of this heartfelt movement to help the poor in the Akron/Barberton area please visit http://www.springtimeofhope.com for more information!