Lazarus Ministries Revitalizes a Downtown Church and the Downtrodden 5

For almost 20 years Lazarus Ministries has fed, clothed, and supported Kansas City’s homeless.

In 1996, the congregation at Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist, at 205 E. 9th Street in Kansas City, Mo., had shrunk to some three families—a far cry from the hundreds it counted among its ranks in the glory days. The church had been active since 1865, but its community had altered greatly in the ensuing years, from a prosperous, busy commercial district to a neighborhood abandoned.

“There was a potluck luncheon after church one Sunday,” recounts Jessica Brooks-Bryon, the Executive Director. “The congregation was wondering if they should shutter their doors. Then, in walks a homeless man. Instead of being afraid or offended, they asked him to join their meal. This was the pivotal moment where Lazarus Ministries all began.”

“They continued opening their doors to the homeless and hungry, and it was such a success they needed a few other UM congregations to come and help,” continues Jessica. “Programs continued to grow, and in 2009 Lazarus Ministries was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit organization in an effort to grow this program from a tiny church outreach into a fortified nonprofit.”

The charity refers to those it serves as “Sojourners” and helps them through five outreaches: Lazarus Table, Lazarus Boutique, Emergency Women’s Shelter, Sojourner Health Clinic and Supportive Housing.

“By referring to those we serve as Sojourners, we intentionally emphasize that the homeless individuals are people on a journey; they are in transition and are worthy of care and consideration,” says Jessica. “And Lazarus Ministries strives to help them on their journey to a better place.”

Lazarus Table, the charity’s cornerstone program, has grown from one meal to three hot meals each weekend, and in 2014 provided more than 31,000 meals. The clothing boutique, meanwhile, met immediate needs for clothing and personal items for close to 3,500 individuals. And the Emergency Women’s Shelter provided 2,090 nights of shelter to homeless women.

Finally, the Sojourner Health Clinic, which opened in 2004, treated 502 patients in 1,563 patient encounters in the past year alone. Sojourner is a free clinic developed and managed by medical students from the UM–KC Medical School.

On Sundays, the students—with faculty supervision—provide blood-pressure monitoring, blood-sugar testing, a dispensary for medications, and an on-site physician. There have been more than 1,000 patient visits and 2,400 prescriptions filled since the clinic opened.

All of these programs are staffed thanks to volunteers from more than 150 community groups and congregations of all denominations throughout the Midwest. In fact, a force of more than 2,000 volunteers contributed more than 10,000 hours to all Lazarus Ministries projects in 2014 alone. Funding stems from individuals, churches, community groups, foundations, and a few small fundraising events. Plans are in the works for the charity’s first significant fundraiser in the next year.

Those wishing to lend a hand with this grassroots organization should consider volunteering—or even joining the charity’s Board, says Jessica. “We have an outstanding and dedicated Board of Directors, but it’s small team and we need to grow our board to not only diversify the labor and increase our resources, but we’re looking for committed volunteers interested in urban poverty and helping make change in the community. And of course, on a programmatic level, we’re challenged with finding additional funding and stocking items most in-demand in the boutique: men’s jeans and shoes and new underwear.”

It’s easy to fall into stereotypes of what a homeless person looks like, Jessica adds, but the truth will surprise you. For instance, Jenny’s apartment building was sold without notice to residents, and all were forced to move out. With inadequate resources and no support system, her cycle of homelessness began.

“Jenny spent two winters in Lazarus Ministries’ Emergency Shelter for Women,” says Jessica. “It became clear she needed someone to walk her through the steps it takes to get a life back on track. Jenny spent 2.5 years in our Supportive Housing program, living year-round in a basement apartment at Grand Avenue Temple and participating in mental health counseling, case management, and other components of the program. Working through emotional damage from homelessness, learning to live independently, applying for supportive programs (such as disability), and securing employment all take time. The strength of Lazarus’ program is walking alongside our clients while giving them responsibility and rebuilding their self-esteem.”

This past summer, Jenny moved into an independent housing program for seniors, and Lazarus is extremely proud of her journey out of homelessness. The organization will walk with her every step of the way: helping Jenny furnish and move into her apartment, aiding with the $150 deposit, and most importantly, keeping her connected.

“The relationship doesn’t end when our residents move out,” says Jessica. “This is just one step in Jenny’s journey, as she’ll inevitably continue to encounter hurdles within the system. And we’ll be there to help her through those challenges.”

Jenny comes back every week to volunteer and see friends at Lazarus Ministries. While this isn’t required, it’s important for everyone to feel like they have a community, or as Jenny says “Another place to call home.”

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