BROOKSVILLE — With 2011 coming to an end, a local Christian rescue ministry that offers food, shelter, clothing and training to those in need recently took a look at how its statistics compare with a national survey in which it participated.
The findings across the country were not particularly good, or encouraging.
"The economy may officially be on the upswing, but Jericho Road Ministries and dozens of other similar organizations across North America see the recession's lingering effects daily," the Rev. Bruce Gimbel, the shelter's founder, executive director and ministry chaplain, wrote in a press release. "Thirty-five percent of those who ask for help on a given day say they're homeless for the first time, according to the 22nd annual Snapshot Survey, conducted this October by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions."
Jericho Road Ministries is a member of the association.
The figures generated by Jericho Road show an increased need that began in 2009 and that probably will continue into 2012, Gimbel said.
"In terms of clients, we saw a lot more families using the emergency shelter for families in 2011 and in those using our food pantry," he said in an interview about the ministry, which he began in 1998 to help the down and out in Hernando County. "Of course, the men's and women's shelters saw their occupancy rise a little bit as well."
The ministry is currently housing 17 men and five women, as well as 14 people from three families in a family shelter.
During 2010, an average of 350 families a month received food from the ministry's food barn and pantry. The total amount of food distributed for the year was nearly 95,000 pounds. This year, about 440 families have been helped each month, with more than 110,000 pounds distributed — an increase of 15.7 percent.
The total number of individuals sheltered in 2010 was 469, for a total of 8,203 nights. This year there were 514 for 9,199 nights — an increase of 12.1 percent.
The number of dine-in and carry-out meals for the 2010 Christmas Eve lunch provided by the ministry was 370. This Christmas, the number was 470.
As treasurer and a board member of the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition, and a member of several other agencies, Gimbel is well informed on the plight of the needy and ways to help.
The increase in need is the result of the economy and the prevalent problems in the culture with drug and alcohol addiction, he said.
"(There has been) a breakdown of support systems for families and individuals that has caused them to come to places like Jericho for help to get back on their feet and find jobs and housing and become productive citizens again," Gimbel said.
Because of the economic downturn, clients are not finding jobs, he said.
"What we've tried to do for those that have debts is to find them part-time jobs within the ministry to at least allow them to begin addressing those financial needs, which are part of their becoming free of that and eventually getting a job."
For those who don't have financial problems, the ministry also offers transitional programs that help people rebuild broken family relationships and give them educational and vocational training that helps them become self-supportive.
All of the training is centered around Jericho's purpose: to "lovingly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the economically, emotionally and spiritually impoverished."
"There's only so much that any individual can do to improve their life's standing," Gimbel said. "We believe a personal relationship to Jesus Christ is the place in which clients are able to find healing, forgiveness for their past, and it offers them a hope for a new future."
One of the shelter's success stories is Nelson McCrimmon, 48, who came to the ministry six years ago and went through the training program.
"He had been living in the woods here in Brooksville in the back of abandoned buses, and was approached by a pastor in town who brought him to Jericho," Gimbel said. "When he finished the program, he chose to stay with us. Today he's paid off his back child support, continues to make regular payments on current child support and manages all four of our thrift stores."
For every story like McCrimmon's, there are 10 clients who do not continue with the program, Gimbel said. But he does not determine success by numbers of people who complete the program.
"If I gave 20 people in the room an apple and told them, 'This is your apple and you can do what you want with it,' you'd have people that will let the apple sit on the counter and rot. Some will make applesauce, some will eat the apple, others will make a pie," Gimbel said. "That's how it is with our program. Rather than measure decisions that other people make with their lives, we measure the quality of the program that we're offering each client that comes in."
That includes the quality of the staff, the commitment of staffers to the welfare of clients and the quality of the teaching about financial planning, addiction recovery, Bible study, relationship building, relapse prevention and parenting, he said.
"If I can be consistent in providing the same, or a better, program from one year to the next, then I can be sure that each client that God brings in the front door has an equal opportunity for meeting their own needs and challenges as they move forward," Gimbel said.
Support for the ministry comes from donations from individuals, businesses and churches throughout the Tampa Bay area; profits from the ministry's thrift stores, and from foundations and grants.
Donations of items for the homeless may be dropped at one of the following ministry locations: Wiscon store, 16479 Wiscon Road, Brooksville; Sunrise store, 31170 Cortez Blvd., Ridge Manor West; Winchester store, 5260 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; Plaza of the Oaks, 8924 State Road 52, Hudson, or at Jericho's main office at 1163 Howell Ave, Brooksville.
Items needed include toiletries, bottled water, bug repellent, bike tire repair kits, sunscreen, gift cards, underwear, diapers, flashlights, bandages, drink boxes, trail mix, shower gel, batteries, T-shirts, hand sanitizer and cell phones with 911 service.