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Tarpon Springs chapel that serves the homeless is saved, for now

Dan Johnson, 54, who is homeless, eats a sandwich while watching some television at G.R.A.C.E. Chapel last month.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Dan Johnson, 54, who is homeless, eats a sandwich while watching some television at G.R.A.C.E. Chapel last month.

TARPON SPRINGS — G.R.A.C.E. Chapel was scheduled to close last Friday because all the organization's funding sources had dried up.

But on Monday, the front door — red with a white cross on it — swung open at 7 a.m.

Those who live in the surrounding woods knew what that meant. The day shelter where they could get a shower and wash clothes was saved.

At least for the next two months.

By 7:30 a.m. G.R.A.C.E., or God's Riches at Christ's Expense, was alive with the hum of a spinning washing machine and chatter between the regulars dining on Cap'n Crunch cereal and juice.

"It's amazing how fast news travels throughout the homeless community," said the Rev. Frank Creamer, a recently retired rector of All Saints Episcopal Church who campaigned for the shelter, which opened in 2008.

After the Tampa Bay Times detailed the impending demise of G.R.A.C.E., a humble little place on Pinellas Avenue just north of the Anclote River bridge, on Aug. 2, the calls started coming in.

This week, the phone was still ringing.

"Just today I got a call from a church in Dunedin interested in helping," said retired Air Force Col. Larry McKellar, who runs the shelter with his wife, Annalisa.

"This is a blessing," he declared. "Everyone is so relieved that we won't have to close, at least for a while, and that we do have the possibility of staying open on a permanent basis."

Since its inception, G.R.A.C.E. has provided those who live on the streets or in tents with a phone number, mailing address, Internet access, laundry and shower facilities, clothing and toiletries, tents and backpacks, bicycles, help with job searches and access to social service agencies.

"It's our understanding from the homeless that we are the only place they can go to get a shower, use a phone and get mail," Creamer said.

A variety of businesses, churches and individuals were the first responders in this crisis. Some want to donate money; others offered to volunteer.

Volunteer training will resume soon, Creamer said. Those who can help with laundry supervision, appointments, intake, food supplies and job support are needed. And someone in the medical profession who could offer services would also be welcome.

Buoyed by the response, Creamer said the shelter will use the next two months for long-term planning and, hopefully, secure permanent funding streams.

For now, the shelter at 1278 N Pinellas Ave. will remain open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to noon.

"This has been great news for our guests," Creamer said, referring to the homeless who frequent the chapel. "They are very happy about it."

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

. Fast facts

To learn more

For more information, contact G.R.A.C.E. Chapel at (727) 934-1199, Larry McKellar at (727) 692-5473, or the Rev. Frank Creamer at (727) 741-9119.

Tarpon Springs chapel that serves the homeless is saved, for now 08/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 8:06pm]
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