Kathy Banfield and Renee Collins are co-founders and co-presidents of Community of Faith Mission (COFM), an emergency homeless shelter ministry providing shelter for people without homes along with two meals a day throughout the winter. Thirty-two local faith-based organizations participate in the program on an 18-week rotating basis by providing food, volunteers and a facility.
How did COFM begin?
KB: In the fall of 2011, we attended an event for the homeless in Hampton, where they gave food, clothing and gifts to those in need. We were inspired and touched by it. We wanted to know what Williamsburg did for the homeless, so we looked at other organizations that served the homeless to see what they provided. We determined [that] there was a need for an emergency shelter program here, so we began researching other shelter programs in Virginia and developed a shelter model to meet the needs of our homeless community. Thanks to the support and financial backing of our pastor, COFM was initially conceived through Saint Bede Catholic Church, with the faith community quickly coming together to actively support the program.
What are some of the misconceptions surrounding homelessness?
RC: Many people believe that most of the homeless population has a substance abuse problem or mental health issue. While we certainly have individuals that meet that profile, we also have some that fall into the category of “working poor” and just need some temporary help. With a large population of service workers that support the tourism industry, many are employed in low-paying jobs and are sometimes laid off seasonally. That coupled with the fact that there is a shortage of affordable housing in Williamsburg causes some to become homeless. Homelessness does not have just one face. It is not gender, race, age or culturally specific. We have had individuals from the ages of 9 to 77 from all walks of life stay at the shelter.
Where does the shelter get the supplies it needs to carry out its mission?
KB: COFM supplies all the sleeping mats and bed linens, and congregations supply the volunteers and meals. Since a majority of our guests do not have transportation, we also provide them with a WATA bus ticket. We also have incredible community partnerships and receive both monetary and material donations for the shelter.
What types of meals are served?
KB: We leave it up to the individual congregations, but there has been everything from Thanksgiving-type meals to hamburgers and fries. For breakfast, there may be elaborate meals like bacon, eggs and pancakes, or bagels. It is an amazing food spread, and there are always seconds. Our volunteers eat with our guests, so there is also fellowship. A lot of our guests may be lonely, so this gives them a warm place to be and someone to talk to. We are giving them hope, and showing them that they are important, that they matter.
How do you address health issues should patrons need care?
RC: We provide each guest with a resource card that lists medical resources such as Olde Towne Medical Center, Angels of Mercy Medical Clinic and Lackey Clinic. While we do not offer case management, we do refer guests to many resources available to them in the community.
How can the community help?
RC: We always welcome donations to help with shelter operating costs and encourage people to go to our website www.cofm.info to learn more about our program and see how they can volunteer.”
COFM will hold its annual fundraiser, Warm-Up Williamsburg, a soup tasting event on January 29 from 5:30–8:00 p.m. at Williamsburg United Methodist Church. Tickets are $20. All proceeds will go toward shelter operating expenses. For more information on COFM, visit www.cofm.info.
CO: We are giving them hope, and showing them that they are important, that they matter.