Ray: Food best weapon against homelessness
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
The building, like Ray, is modest. Chipped paint on the sign outside. A stray Garfield-colored cat lounging on a chair upstairs, taken in by staff, possibly for good. You’d never guess by touring the place that it is where 400 daily volunteers are coordinated to help provide free food, medical treatment and job services to the 14% of Volusia County residents currently living below the poverty line — including 250 families per month in Ormond Beach.
“Even though there aren’t as many homeless families in Ormond,” Ray said, “there are still families living below poverty, and so they need the food.”
Poverty is considered any annual income less than $26,000 for a family of five. And groceries, Ray added, are considered the greatest weapon his organization has in its fight for homelessness prevention.
“We can go so much further with the dollar,” he said, explaining that the food packages HUM supplies to families can yield up to 10 meals for a family of four. Normally priced, that package would cost $70-$100; but being that his organization buys in bulk — it distributes 350 tons of nonperishable food every year — it can cost as low as $5.
“That’s huge, huge leverage,” said Ray, a former preacher and active-duty military chaplain. And Mark Geallis, director of development and community relations, agrees.
Geallis, who used to own a few Subway restaurants and work in Ormond churches, says he was hired to staff the day after being thrown out of a local park by a police officer for illegally feeding vagrants.
“A few years ago, I decided I wanted to serve God and people my whole life,” he said. “So now I went from being an illegal servant of the public to being able to help the homeless legally.”
He’s also taking a lead in the Feed Our Neighbors initiative, a partnership with local Rotary groups, the Community Foundation of East Central Florida and local food banks to raise $100,000 for food purchases.
Until Sept. 15, about 24 donation cans will be placed around Ormond, with 250 total throughout Volusia, asking for donations of $7 or more (enough to feed a family of four for a week). There are also two food collection drums in the city, at Oasis Church, at 85 South Tymber Creek Road, and First United Methodist, at 336 S. Halifax Drive.
“Our approach is, if we can push more food into the cupboards of these families, we will help avoid homelessness altogether,” Ray said. “(That’s) our direction for the future.”
And the numbers are there to prove it. Whereas, a few years ago, HUM would provide one food package to poverty-level Volusia County families every four months, now food drop-offs are monthly. In Ormond, one package is supplied every two months.
“We’re a faith-based ministry.” Ray said. “Our value is that people matter to God.”
And by getting even the smaller food banks in on Feed Our Neighbors, more meals can be purchased at less cost, mattering so much to so many.
Halifax Urban Ministries’ Ormond Beach office, at 164 W Grenada Blvd., is not the permanent residence of the homelessness nonprofit currently residing there. According to Troy Ray, executive director, although his nonprofit has occupied the location since 1996, it is owned by the city, which will eventually need it back.
To gauge residents’ response to a relocation, a town hall meeting will be held 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, at Christ Presbyterian Church, at 1035 W. Granada Blvd.
“The options are to rent another facility, which is not ideal,” Ray said, “co-locate with another place, be a guest of a church, or get something donated. ... We kind of want to hear everybody’s ideas out there.”
The ministry is also considering a mobile benefits-type program.
“We want to take time to communicate to the community because, (otherwise), it winds up communicating a negative, and we don’t want that.”
Feed the poor
To donate to or become a sponsor of the Feed Our Neighbors campaign, which will have about 24 collection cans dispersed throughout Ormond Beach until Sept. 15, call 252-0156, or email peoplematter2god.@cfl.rr.com. Donations are also accepted online, at www.cfecf.org.
To volunteer at Halifax Urban Ministries Ormond office, call Arelene Martin, at 615-1326.