Songs, snowcones and selflessness
Central Union Mission hosts a block party for neighborhood residents
Michael Epps lost his home last winter when his parents died and the house was sold. A longtime temp worker — washing dishes and doing kitchen work — Epps bounced around a few shelters in the District: “Lots of drugs, people trying to steal your clothes, everything,” he said of the places he stayed.
Then Epps heard about Central Union Mission, a Christian nonprofit shelter a few blocks from Union Station. Three months ago, “they welcomed me in,” he said.
The shelter opened its doors a little wider Saturday for a neighborhood “block party” with inflatable bounce houses and a performing choir, welcoming parents and children to the old Gales School for an afternoon of entertainment.
Among the attendees was the 90-member Prestonwood Student Worship Choir from Prosper, Tex., 40miles from Dallas. In lime green shirts screen-printed with an illustration of the Capitol, the high schoolers served more than 550 hot dogs and countless snowcones to attendees before mounting a makeshift stage to perform pop songs and gospel music.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all summer,” said choir member Emily Carney, 15.
Dozens of children scribbled their names and “Jesus loves you” in pastel chalk on the pavement outside the shelter. They skipped rope and hula-hooped in between eating snowcones churned out from a bright blue machine.
A handful of residents, sitting in the shade on the front steps, also ventured out into the sun for hot dogs and chips. Though many of the adults standing in line for food hailed from other shelters, attendees praised Central Union Mission’s medical care and religious services.
“I’m trying to reestablish myself,” said Jonathan Carrington, 31, who returned to the city last month only to have an internship fall through. Newly homeless, he said he came to the shelter regularly for food, gesturing to his half-eaten hot dog with mustard.
Deborah Chambers, Central Union Mission’s director of strategic partnerships, stressed the need for welcoming places for those who are homeless.
“When they come to the shelter, they have exhausted all other options,” she said. “Just being able to sit down and have a cup of coffee and watch the news . . . and know that people are going to be able to treat you right means a lot.”
“Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you’re hopeless,” said William Spence, a shelter chaplain. “There’s hope at Central Union Mission.”
Epps, sitting under a tent and watching children and teenagers run around in the sun, said he was looking forward to finishing his six-month program at Central Union Mission. His old temp agency, he said, has offered to help him get another job when he’s done.
“I’m already on file,” he said proudly.
Saturday’s event at Central UnionMission included a bounce house. The nonprofit organization began serving the poor in 1884.