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Local Church Feeds Homeless Youth

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When the Homeless Youth Resource Center lost funding to be open on weekends and during breakfast for weekdays this April, a Salt Lake City woman stepped up to fill in the gap.

Every morning but Sunday, Ginger  Phillips, youth director and pastor’s assistant at Sacred Light of Christ Metropolitan Community Church, has offered a breakfast program for homeless youth up to 23 years old. She was inspired to create the program, she said, after attending the Utah Pride Center’s launch for Chloe Noble and Jill Hartman’s Homeless Youth Pride Walk in May.

“A homeless youth named Katrina [Oakason] talked and told everybody at the launch that Volutneers of America [the group that administers the resource center] didn’t have breakfast or anything,” she recalled. “So I went down to the VOA the week after and asked them what they usually serve for breakfast and how many kids they usually get for breakfast hours. Then I went back and told the pastor that we really need to help these kids out, because they aren’t getting the most important meal of the day anymore and not getting anything on weekends.”

Within a week, the church, which welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, was open for breakfast from 9–9:30 a.m. in their downstairs meeting space. Not realizing that she had to earn the trust of the youth she wanted to help,  Phillips said she was disheartened because only a few youth showed up in the first few weeks.

“I remember going to the VOA and asking why they didn’t come,” she said. The reason: the youth, many of them with histories of abuse and mistreatment, needed time to trust her. So Phillips went to areas where the youth hang out during the day to talk to them and pass out fliers about the program. Gradually, more youth began showing up. On some mornings, Phillips said as many as 14 youth have come.

“They don’t trust very well, and I feel very honored now that they have chosen our place as a place of trust,” she said. “That they trust our church to be fed in the morning and the word has gotten out.”

But now that word has, Phillips said that the church serves homeless youth of all ages, from young adults to teenagers and pre-teens, some of whom are runaways and some of whom are even gang members. Some have even been barred from VOA facilities, at least temporarily, for behavior problems—problems that Phillips say don’t happen during breakfast.

“We’ll get the ones who are on suspension from the VOA, [and] they’re usually really well behaved,” she said. “A couple times there’ve been kids who have been rivals on the street and they’ll come to our church and be respectful of each other at our church. They’re on a common ground; they’re there to get food and that’s it.”
With the exception of an occasional outside donation, Sacred Light of Christ’s small congregation purchases all of the breakfast food in bulk through its Sam’s Club account. Phillips noted that all of the food is fresh and hearty; favorites among the youth, she added, are eggs and orange juice.

“They can get as many helpings as they want,” she added.

Just months after its beginning, some of the youth who access the breakfast program, said Phillips, are calling it “my favorite place to come during the day.”

“That makes me feel really good,” she said. “I’m very protective of them. They’re like my kids, almost.”

The church welcomes donations of breakfast food items, particularly the two most popular. Those who would like to donate may email Phillips at gingerspice72@msn.com.

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