BROOKSVILLE — Helping people shouldn't be exclusive to one church or a particular denomination, a local pastor says.
"The Bible teaches that it's all about the heart and to love one another. I think that's what I'm seeing," said Ernest Watkins, the pastor at Brooksville Northside Church of Christ.
"I see a great coming together, so if we can get more churches partnered, that strengthens our cause," he said. "I think it's great that I'm able to see that and be a part of it."
Watkins' church works with other churches in the Joseph's House ministry, for example. Local businesses, such as Jimmy's Warehouse in Brooksville, have also gotten involved in helping with church giveaway programs by donating furniture and other items.
"It's been a labor of love, and we broke down some walls," the pastor said.
One denominational wall of separation was breached by inviting Bob and Stephanie DeMont, who attend Mass at a Catholic church on Saturdays, to become deacons at Northside Church of Christ, because of their service to the needy of the community.
"A deacon, as we call it, is someone who serves," Watkins said. "They attend St. Anthony's on Saturday and come here on Sunday."
Watkins also welcomed newlyweds Larry and Minnie Duncan into his church's fellowship about 10 months ago and embraced their already operational Second Chance Ministry to the homeless.
When the DeMonts began working with the Duncans, extending the homeless ministry to include the needy by securing and distributing donations of food, clothing and furniture to low-income families, the church embraced that as well.
"The church has made it open arms," Watkins said. "We've got a barn here and some sheds and stuff. We've got a church van that we use to go pick up furniture and other donations, so we're using our resources."
Still, the ministry badly needs community support, Bob DeMont said. There are so many sad stories out there, he said, such as the veteran who was eating dog food at the end of the month and the young mother with four children who was down to her last two pieces of chicken.
"We brought her four or five boxes of food," DeMont said. "We take clothing, toys, furniture, appliances, whatever they need, to the homes of people who call on us for help."
About 170 people are fed each week through the DeMonts' arm of the ministry. The Duncans' ministry to the homeless is growing as well.
"We started with 20 sandwiches, sodas, cookies and clothes and shoes on our blue golf cart in the back of a shopping center," Mrs. Duncan said, explaining how the giveaway ministry began. Eventually they used their car to minister in more Brooksville neighborhoods.
"We are now (distributing) 150 to 160 sandwiches every Wednesday," she said.
But the need is even greater.
"There are over 500 homeless people, including children, that we're still trying to find to feed," DeMont said. "More call us every week as word of our ministry continues."
The Duncans and DeMonts cover much of the costs themselves, including the gas for their ministry travels. They also receive weekly donations of food from Winn-Dixie supermarket. Subway and Dunkin' Donuts donate rolls and doughnuts.
But they would like to have the funding to do more.
"We honestly need financial support and don't like to ask," DeMont said.
He would like to have a larger pantry or even a facility where they could set up a soup kitchen.
"Our dream is to have a building where Stephanie can make big pots of hot soup and we can give out soup and sandwiches," Mrs. Duncan said. "We would also like to collect clothes and shoes to give to those in need."
Even with a soup kitchen, the Duncans will continue to minister to people where they find them. Once homeless himself due to a drug addiction while living in New York, Larry Duncan credits two nuns giving him sandwiches and getting him off the streets with saving his life.
"Larry and I will always continue our street ministry for those living in the woods and sleeping in doorways," Mrs. Duncan said. "Many of them do not have a bike to ride to a pantry or cannot walk that far."
The DeMonts will also continue ministering wherever they see the need.
"Just a little company can mean so much," DeMont said.