BROOKSVILLE — For almost two decades, Gilbert and Evelyn Abrueo have helped people and trained others do the same through their unique ministry, Night Runners Mobile Crisis Services and Disaster Relief.
The couple, both 49, who have worked in Connecticut, New York and east Florida, soon will bring their efforts to Hernando County.
"It's a Godsend having (Abrueo) come into the picture," said the Rev. Clarence Clark.
"He's willing to use his equipment and things of that nature to do the things that I can't do and assist me in the things that I am already doing,'' Clark said. "We're always willing to network with someone who has the resources and the opportunity and availability to do it. It sounds excellent to me."
Night Runners' resources include vehicles, generators, a field kitchen — a half-dozen mobile units that provide logistical support for volunteers during disasters by serving hot meals and distributing groceries and clothing.
One unit is air-conditioned and has a bathroom.
The nondenominational, faith-based ministry also offers individuals the covering of operating under a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Night Runners began when Abrueo had a conversion experience in 1992.
"I grew up with a Christian mother and perfect Sunday school attendance," Abrueo said about his upbringing in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Bad choices as a teenager and into his 20s, however, led him to a very different lifestyle.
"I was a gangster and ran the streets," he said. "I got hooked on drug addiction and one day found myself incarcerated (for aggravated assault), facing four 15-year counts and wondering when I would end up killing someone. That scared me."
That's when Abrueo gave his life to the Lord, he said.
"I thought I would be a jailhouse preacher, but God had other plans," he said.
He was given probation and released. Shortly after, he married Evelyn, and they began their ministry in Bridgeport, Conn., running rehab programs and working with the homeless.
"It's something that was never planned. It just evolved," Abrueo said.
"Once you start your Christian walk with feeding the homeless and going out and rescuing prostitutes and battered women and drug addicts, it's hard to go back to Kum Ba Ya, " he said, referring to a Christian campfire song.
The ministry was blessed with sponsors and the Abrueos accumulated the equipment they would use to help with disaster relief.
In past years, the units have been used to help workers after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.
"Our biggest deployment was in '05 when we deployed seven times in a 14-month span," Abrueo said, noting the large number of hurricanes that year. "We also ended up partnering with FEMA, where we helped over two dozen families transition from travel trailers and park models into permanent housing."
The ministry, which includes the Abrueos, their teenage daughter and Mrs. Abrueo's mother, came to Central Florida in 2007, when there was a tornado in Lady Lake. Then they set up camp in Citrus County for a while, providing showers and haircuts to the homeless in Inverness.
Through attending Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville, they became aware of the many homeless people in the area and that led to offer their services to minister here.
Clark, who heads the Shiloh Problem Solvers ministry, said Night Runners will provide his ministry with hot food and storage space for meals that will be donated through the yearly postal food drive.
The ministry has done its homework, Clark said, noting that Abrueo has spoken with area church pastors to get their assistance and advice on how he should approach his ministry in Hernando County.
"We welcome him with open arms," Clark said. "Now we'll be able to be a whole solution instead of just a part of a solution."
Bob Frances, a member of Grace World Outreach Church, and Tom Brady, from Faith Evangelical Free Church, have been ministering to the homeless in the Brooksville area for the past two years. They are now Night Runners strike team leaders.
"With Night Runners coming alongside, we'll be able to get a lot more donations," Frances said. "And he's got a bunch of equipment where we can deliver hot meals to the people as well as the canned goods and nonperishables that we give them. The fact that he can pull that trailer behind him and set up where we're giving out the clothing and the food, that's exciting. That's huge."
To facilitate the ministry, Night Runners is renovating buildings on Josephine Street and calling them Joseph's House. The structures will be equipped to provide hot meals and showers for those in need and store necessary supplies. The property will also house the mobile units.
"The goal and purpose is that we literally have a facility on the other side of the tracks," Abrueo said. "That facility is going to be able to provide specific services in the community."
Abrueo said Brooksville will be the ministry's home base and he hopes to provide an after-school center for children ages 8 to 12 between the time they get out of school to the time their parents get home from work. From 5 to 7 p.m. he hopes to provide a community supper.
"We don't call it a soup kitchen," he said, "but we'd like to do a supper with the community followed by some type of support group, and at the same time be able to do counseling and case management."
The charm about the facility and the mobile units is that it is a "force multiplier," Abrueo said.
"We can identify mobile home parks, neighborhoods throughout the entire county and can deploy units to go there with hot food, groceries, clothing and referrals," he said. "So instead of building food pantries and soup kitchens all over the county, we can partner with local agencies, organizations and churches and provide those services effectively."
John Callea from Love Your Neighbor ministry plans to offer any help he can to Abrueo and knows it will be reciprocated.
"It's coming along side, like the old barn building," Callea explained. "My barn burns down and the community comes together and puts it back up for me."
Callea recently sent out a letter to his ministry's supporters introducing Abrueo and telling of Night Runners' need for a warehouse for food storage and a forklift. He hopes Night Runners will stay a long time.
"I'm very comfortable now that I know I have a network of people that I can call should a crisis arrive," Callea said. "As long as he's here, we'll enjoy the company and the support, and we'll enjoy supporting him. If the Lord calls him to move on, then I'll support him in that as well."
Abrueo moves on whenever he feels the Lord leads him to another place, he said.
"It varies depending upon individuals rising up to the occasion," he said. "In the past, we have implemented programs that lasted as little as 10 months and as long as eight years."
In the meantime, Night Runners will serve local ministries as much as it can.
"It's bringing the family of God together in a very special and unique way and implementing a special and unique ministry that will go out to the people," Abrueo said. "Not calling them to come into the church, but bringing the church to the streets."