The Rev. Dan Campbell didn't need much reassurance to know that his Methodist congregation made the right decision to minister to the poor.
He couldn't ignore the evidence: homeless people sleeping in cars, in doorways of businesses, even outside the church.
"The need was so great," he said.
His dwindling congregation was moved as well, which is why members voted seven years ago to close the church and reopen as the Joining Hands Community Mission. The group now operates as Metropolitan Ministries Pasco, having joined the huge Metropolitan Ministries charitable network based in Tampa.
Campbell, who heads the Pasco charity, still sees a vast need in the group's burgeoning food program and the escalating number of families seeking housing assistance.
To tackle both, the ministry is rolling out its two biggest projects yet: a dining program to provide hot meals to area churches and a transitional housing program.
The group hopes to break ground on a two-story, 12-unit apartment complex in November. The dining program, which will provide packaged meals for church food programs, such as Meals on Wheels, will debut the last week of September.
"These are two big jumps for us in the same year," Campbell said. "This is huge for us."
The mission of Metropolitan Ministries Pasco, which offers emergency food and clothing and job training and placement, hasn't changed.
"We try to help people help themselves," said Campbell. "Our goal is to help them become self-sufficient, and we hold them accountable to that."
Nancy Dougherty, associate director of outreach programs, added, "We try to allow them some dignity."
What has changed, though, is the level of commitment. The transitional housing is unlike anything offered at the center on U.S. 19, which also runs after-school programs. It will house 12 families for up to 90 days each. Officials expect to help 60 families a year. Ultimately, the shelter will be enlarged to accommodate 24 families.
The intent is to help families temporarily while they look for permanent housing.
"These will be families in crisis who have no other place to stay, and our goal is to help them get back on their feet," Metropolitan Ministries CEO Tim Marks said.
Families will be screened to keep out drugs and domestic violence. Campbell said those accepted into the program will be "the working poor," including families facing eviction or recently forced onto the street because they couldn't muster a security deposit plus the first and last month's rent.
They could also be those who lost their jobs in the housing meltdown. "Many around here work in construction, and when that fell out, a lot of people here were in trouble," he said.
Each unit will come with two bedrooms, a living area and a bathroom, but not a kitchen. Meals will be taken at a community dining hall across the street, next to the kitchen that will provide the hot meals to area churches.
The total cost for the housing: about $2 million.
The Legislature this past spring approved about $1 million for construction. Last year, the county approved about $600,000, leaving Metropolitan Ministries with about $400,000 to raise in private donations to close the gap.
Marks said Metropolitan Ministries has held preconstruction meetings with Pasco County officials. It plans to meet with neighbors to ensure they're comfortable with the project. Construction will take about a year.
Campbell said he's not worried about raising the remaining money. Each time the charity has rolled out a new program, donors responded. The food program remains its most popular service, with more than 5,400 families helped last year.
"Whenever we start meeting the needs of the community, God just opens the doors," he said. "He know this needs to happen. It's going to happen."
Contact Rich Shopes at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.