An international Christian organization says it will distribute 60,000 blankets to the homeless and needy across the U.S. in January alone.
Gleaning for the World (GFTW), a Virginia-based humanitarian aid organization, is sending the blankets to 10 different states to be given to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food banks and homeless communities.
Ron Davidson, founder and president of GFTW, estimates that about 90 percent of the groups that distribute the blankets at a local level are churches. Not only do churches have the volunteers and facilities needed to hand out supplies, he told CP, but they can also use their humanitarian efforts as an opportunity to share the gospel message.
"My desire, my ministry, is still to reach the soul as well as the body," said Davidson. "It's my belief that if you reach the body you can reach the soul."
Among those whom Davidson hopes to help are homeless veterans. In addition to providing blankets and other much-needed relief supplies, GFTW also works with organizations that provide homeless veterans with things like food, reading glasses, haircuts and more.
"These people have put their life on the line for us...They have been there. They volunteered to go there, and I think we owe them not only our gratitude, and not only saying to them, 'Welcome home.' We need to show them that we care," said Davidson.
While it is difficult to estimate the number of homeless veterans, a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests there were approximately 57,849 homeless veterans nationwide on any given night in January 2013 – a 24 percent reduction in homelessness among veterans since 2010. The Department of Veterans Affairs has made it a priority to see homelessness among veterans ended by 2015, according to a press release from November, and the HUD statistics suggest that goal is attainable.
Overall there were 610,042 homeless individuals on any given night in January of last year.
GFTW distributes about 100,000 blankets each year through a federal program for homeless and disaster relief, Davidson says. The organization has responded to both international and domestic disasters, and blankets are often one of the first items handed out to victims to both help them get warm and to help them sleep.
Davidson served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church for 27 years before he retired to start GFTW in 1998. At first, he says, he and wife thought they would only ship three tractor trailers full of supplies each year, but in the first six months alone they shipped 27 loads.
Since the organization's inception it has distributed nearly 3,000 tractor trailers full of supplies, but Davidson says the nonprofit hopes to expand even more. In the next three years GFTW hopes to double its production from reaching 6 million people annually to reaching about 12 million people. Davidson says his organization has seen 30,000 people come to Christ each year, though he hopes to see that number increase to 50,000.
"What we have found is that when a group goes in a community, and they do the humanitarian aid and they take care of the basic needs of the people, the church grows like crazy with new Christians," he said.
His organization is also experimenting with how it can enable even more churches to spiritually minister to people by also providing humanitarian aid.