(Photo:New Hope Worship Center)
A Georgia pastor began a small "bridge ministry" by feeding 50 homeless people who live under bridges and sharing the Gospel with them seven years ago. However, last weekend that number grew to 1,500 people who were in need of a pre-Thanksgiving dinner that was prepared and served by hundreds of volunteers.
"It was amazing. We usually grow about 200 a year but it seems like there's more desperation in our nation today than there was a year ago," said Pastor Roger Gardner from the New Hope Worship Center in Augusta, Ga., reports Fox News.
Their outreach event was a part of their annual tradition to feed the homeless the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day as they believe that individuals who live in the streets should be embraced, not abandoned.
Each year, the effort requires three days of cooking and months of gathering donations. The ministry also gives the homeless brand new coats, with Gardner explaining that despite the fact that the homeless can get gently used items from other charity organizations in their same town, Bridge Ministry makes it a point to make those in need feel special for a day.
Aside from their massive annual Thanksgiving outreach, the ministry operates each Saturday during the year under a bridge in Augusta where volunteers set up 250 chairs, food serving tables, and a music system, creating an atmosphere of praise and worship where the Gospel is preached. Each month, over 1,000 meals are served and 600 hygiene bags are given out, as well as nearly 1,000 items of clothing.
"The average number of people we have are 300 to 350, so we need volunteers every weekend," said Gardner.
Bridge Ministry also has a food pantry that serves families from different social economic backgrounds who face financial difficulties and are in need of food.
"The food pantry has exploded in the last year because people have lost jobs or are in a desperate situation," said Gardner. "We had an airplane pilot come in the other day, we couldn't believe it. He was so humble and so broken to have to go to a food pantry to get food for his family."
Since its inception, Bridge Ministry has focused on helping as many people as it can, but in the beginning, Gardner said that the group hoped the amount of individuals that they were set to help would decrease through time instead of increase as they have in recent years.
"We want to see our homeless people get jobs and come off of drugs and have the opportunity to blend back into society," said Gardner.
His ministry was initially inspired by Christian singer, Candy Christmas, who started a bridge ministry in Nashville in 2004 out of a desire to help feed and clothe the homeless.
"It started out very small with a few volunteers and just a very small meal and we wanted to have a minister preach the Gospel to them and give them the opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus Christ," said Gardner.
Now, Bridge Ministry has expanded to cities throughout the country while many other churches from different states have inquired about how to operate a similar ministry, which Gardner is glad to help with.
"The average American looks at a homeless person as an invisible person," said Gardner. "We see them as a soul, as a human being…people have the idea that poverty is being poor and hungry and naked but poverty is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. They are our brothers and sisters," said Gardner.