Over 300 homeless men, women and children were invited to a day party in a most unlikely spot, on the parking lot of a Baptist church in South L.A. But on Saturday, McCoy Memorial Baptist Church hosted a diverse community of homeless people, who entered the decorated lot and were greeted with classic R&B hits, dancing, barbeque, donations and love.
The visitors were transported by bus from various shelters and streets in South L.A. and Skid Row. The goal was to fellowship and create bonds with people in disadvantaged situations by providing a happy environment for the adults and children alike.
In addition to the festivities, party-goers were provided with amenities such as mobile showers from Lava Mae, thousands of shoes and clothing items, towels and toiletries, toys, social services and some of the best soul food in the city.
The event was conceived and headed by Pastor Sherman Manning of Yes We Can ! Worship Center, who partnered with the Rev. Dr. R.A. Williams, pastor of McCoy Memorial Baptist Church; the Rev. Dr. L.A. Kessee, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Pastor Joseph B. Hardwick, pastor of Praises of Zion Baptist Church, and Reverend James Perkins, pastor of True Friendship Baptist Church.
“This is our first party for people dealing with homelessness, actually living in tents, sleeping under the bridges on the streets. We want them to be able to take showers and take advantage of [all the resources] offered today,” said Manning.
Manning was pleased that the churches’ efforts also provided vendors such as Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS), Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), Home At Last and Volunteers of America (VOA), to help people with their immediate and future housing and recovery needs.
City Council president, Herb Wesson came to lend his support to the party. “This is the only way we are going to be able to help our people is when you have men, women of God, or people who just want to give back,” he said. “Homelessness isn’t something the government can solve alone … it’s gonna take our neighbors to reach out to fellow neighbors.”
According to Pastor Williams, Councilman Curren Price shared with the church that the homeless population of L.A. has gone up 30 percent. “It’s heartbreaking to drive through the city of the Angels, with so much money in it, to see homeless men and women on the bridges and sleeping on the streets. We decided we want to do something about it,” Williams said.
He noted that the church didn’t have the resources and felt Manning’s concept would be an ideal partnership. The church offered their facility and all of the resources possible.
Saluting Manning’s efforts, Wesson said, “I wish I could tell you how much he spent putting this together. This has been his dream, his vision.”
Manning formed the Yes We Can ! Worship Center three-and-one-half years ago, with its first member being a homeless man. Deacon Jorge was a drug addict but his life changed, helping the two form a ministry targeting the homeless community. Manning is also aided with deacons Luis and Jose, who have multiple duties, from distributing clothing, to setting up and overall general operation.
The party featured secular music and dancing, but that didn’t seem to bother the pastors and church members. “It’s great that we have a pastor who thinks outside the box. Music is a universal language and sometimes, we have to use what God gives us to turn the lights on Him,” said the Rev. William Macklin.
Church prayer warriors were also on hand, who thanked God for stopping the rain as well as prayed with the visitors. “We are here to help somebody and someone will receive Christ because of this,” a McCoy Memorial member said.
The attendees included Orlando Ward of the Volunteers of America, a former Stanford University basketball player with a promising NBA career. Ward fell to drug addiction, became homeless and lived in a cardboard box.
Speaking to those dealing with homelessness, Ward said, “No matter where you are today, it does not define you. You will rise out of this. You are not alone; you are never alone.”
The guests enjoyed free shopping and gathered together all the items they could carry, as they listened to music by DJ James Perry and received free haircuts from Caleb Jordon.
First Lady Debbie Williams of McCoy Memorial and church volunteers coordinated the party arrangements and managed the clothes distribution. Hardwick purchased the barbeque and recruited Smokin’ Telle’s BBQ & Grill to prepare it. “The guest were so grateful to have quality food and clothes from donors in the community,” Williams said. Some of the visitors shared with Williams the poor quality of food and clothing they are sometimes forced to accept.
Even youngsters shared with the guests. Seven-year-old Aliyah, who brought toys for the homeless children, said, “These are for special homeless child who needs them very bad. They need to feel like they’re at home, even if on the street. They really need to have love, care, specialness … I can’t help to see another child like this.”
Expressing his appreciation, Vincent Allen, who traveled from Skid Row, noted, “These are the kinds of people God designs to send to this earth in order to help the people invigorate themselves and feel more useful in life about themselves,” he said.
According to Mrs. Williams, it took a village of selfless supporters and volunteers to make the event happen, with special mention to all the church committees, including Leah and Dana Pump of Ladylike Foundation with JETRO Market, the LAX Hilton donating towels, and other donors.
“I’m just touched and blessed that we are able to serve them,” responded Pastor Manning.
Yes We Can ! Worship Center meets every Friday at 7 p.m., at 5857 South Central Avenue, suite 180, on the corner of Slauson Ave. and Central Ave., in the shopping center right next door to Chase Bank.
Additional photos E. Mesiyah McGinnis