“Welcome HOM,” said a smiling Cherith Snyder to a family walking through the doors of the recently opened House of Mercy (HOM).
House of Mercy, a thrift shop, is the latest effort of Serving Others Under the Lord (SOUL) Ministries, an outreach ministry for those who are homeless or in need. Created in November 2013, SOUL has been out serving and providing necessities to the homeless, with the hope to one day open a year-round community center to be the heart of House of Mercy.
After less than three years in existence, SOUL now is one step closer to realizing their goal, after finding a 6,400-square-foot property to rent. On June 18, they opened their doors to the first phase of House of Mercy — the thrift store.
“The purpose of the thrift store is to actually fund the community center,” explained Cherith Snyder — who, along with her husband, Eric, is the driving force of the ministry. “We ask for people to donate things for the homeless, and the next thing you know, we’ve got potholders and trinkets. And I’m like, ‘They live in a tent. They don’t need a leaf platter.’
“What was happening was these things were building up, building up, building up. Then it got to the point where not only were we helping them when they were in their camps, but when they got housing, we were giving them furniture, bedding and all of those things.”
Snyder said that, after filling four storage units, a backyard shed, their home’s two-car garage, breezeway and spare room, with items trickling into their kitchen and living room, she knew it was time to take action.
At first, the plan was to have a giant yard sale to get rid of the odds and ends that couldn’t be used to help their ministry. In looking at the Selbyville property to rent for the yard sale, they realized the property would be perfect for the community center.
“In talking to the landlord, he loved our vision,” said Eric Snyder, adding that the landlord was supportive of their efforts.
On June 18, House of Mercy became a reality, with the thrift store opening for business.
“Nothing that the guys can use in their camps is being sold here,” emphasized Cherith Snyder. “All the camp gear, all the hearty blankets, the sleeping bags, the kinds of pots and pans that they like to use for their fires — all those type things we’re not selling, because it’s for the guys on the streets.”
However, those who walk into the shop can find brand-new crafts, some gently used furniture, name-brand clothing and accessories, toys and more.
“Every single thing in this room, with the exception of that tablet, has been donated. We have brand new things with the tags still on them that were donated,” she said.
“Everything in here was donated to help people. So, whether it’s selling it and getting the money to be able to help, or if it’s giving them the stuff to be able to help the guys on the streets, it’s being used.”
Most clothing in the shop costs $1.50 per item, with denim priced at $2.50. Toys and children’s books cost 25 cents each.
“People have made comments on how inexpensive items are. I’m not trying to get what it’s worth — I’m just trying to get a little bit to get by,” she added.
But not everyone will have to pay for clothing. Snyder said she has been in touch with local school nurses to distribute clothing vouchers.
“They know that if they have a child that needs something, they give them a voucher and they can come in here and pick out an outfit.”
And if there is a group of siblings in need of assistance?
“If little Johnny, he needs clothing but he also has a brother and two sisters, write that down, if you know that they need clothing or furniture or whatever. Is it a one-time thing, or do they need to pick out a couple outfits each month? We’ll work with them.”
Thrift store is first phase for community center
The plan is to build out the space in phases, with the next phase to include the House of Mercy Sanctuary, and soup kitchen and pantry.
“This is not just open to the homeless; it’s open to the community. It’s for everybody,” said Eric Snyder.
A side door in the building will be the entrance to the community center that will enter into the sanctuary, complete with an altar. House of Mercy will be an alternate church, for those who seek faith in the community.
“It’s not going to be your typical church. We’re also not going to have church on Sunday; we’re going to have it on Sunday nights,” explained Cherith Snyder.
“Here’s the thing: If you’re newly sober, you’re used to partying every single weekend. What are you going to do on a Saturday night? You’re going to sit on your hands, antsy, trying to get out the door, because that’s what you want to do.
“But you’re trying to stop drinking, because you have a problem and you know you have a problem and you’re trying to stop and change your life. Now we have something for you to do — go to church. It’s an alternative to a bad decision.”
The soup kitchen will be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the food bank also providing food boxes on an emergency basis.
A computer lab for will be set up, with access to the internet, so community members may search for jobs and housing.
A laundry and shower will also be available to those who are in need of those facilities.
“If we have a place for the homeless to come hang out for the day, then it’s crime-prevention. They’re not loitering; they’re not being a nuisance. They’re not trespassing on private property, trying to find a shortcut,” added Cherith Snyder. “We can alleviate that by letting them hang out here.
“‘Take a shower — you need it. Now you have a place to do it. Hungry? Grab a bite to eat — the refrigerator’s right there. Want to watch some TV? Go ahead.’”
There will also be a gathering area with couches, tables for the soup kitchen and a landline phone. Snyder said they plan to hold AA and NA meetings multiple times a week, as well as Bible study, GED classes, job-training classes, finance and budgeting classes, and assistance with finding affordable housing.
“We have a friend of ours who used to work for the prison system and taught life skills at the prison. He got a grant for a really awesome curriculum. He’s still in possession of that curriculum because he’s the one who got the grant. So he’s going to come and teach that exact same class,” she said.
“It’s everything from money management to coping skills, communication skills. There’s a part about interviewing people, greeting people — you know, social graces.”
Medical care and mental health providers will also visit to do free screenings.
“They won’t be performing anything here, but maybe a blood pressure screening or check their blood sugars,” she said, adding, “Mental health is so undiagnosed. There are so many resources out there for mental health, but people don’t realize it’s a mental health issue.”
The Snyders hope to give everyone the chance to improve their lives by providing the right support resources.
“We show you your destination and help get you there, but we’re not going to drag you there. We’ll help walk you there,” said Cherith Snyder.
Behind the building, a small patio area will be set up, and a large community garden will be planted.
There will also be workout equipment set up for community members to use, if they so choose, which came about after they heard a story from a friend who had overcome addiction.
“A friend of ours who went through a program, and he said a craving from an addiction only lasts 90 seconds,” said Snyder. “I said, ‘Huh, that’s interesting — I’ve never thought about that.’ And he said, ‘So I decided, for 90 seconds I’m going to do something else. I’m going to do jumping jacks. Every time I want a drink, I’m going to do jumping jacks until I don’t want a drink anymore… Guess what? I lost 11 pounds.’”
The community center will help people as long as they need it, rather than putting a time limit on help, as many shelters do.
“Think of it as a wound,” said Cherith Snyder. “A papercut is going to heal pretty quick; you don’t even really need a Band-Aid. A nick with a knife in the kitchen — you’re going to need a Band-Aid and to apply a little pressure. Then, some people get their thumb caught in a table saw. It takes a whole lot more healing and mending for the table saw than it did for that papercut.”
“It’s the perfect analogy, because when you put that thumb back on, it’s not going to be the same hand. There are some guys that need to realize they won’t be the guy they were — they now need to be the guy they are,” added Eric Snyder.
Homeless outreach gets a chance to grow
Although their ultimate goal for the thrift store is to facilitate the opening of a community center, everything started with the ministry’s Thursday-night soup deliveries.
“We’re a people ministry. Wherever people are, that’s where we are,” said Eric Snyder. “That’s why on Thursday nights we drive everywhere from Seaford to Georgetown to Rehoboth to Bethany to Frankford to Millsboro.”
For the past two winters, SOUL has run a homeless shelter out of Stone House, part of the Bethany Beach Christian Church complex in downtown Bethany Beach.
The first year, it was just a shelter in the evening hours; however, last winter, those needing a sanctuary could stay all day.
“We then get to know these people on a personal level,” Cherith Snyder said of those who stay at the shelter. “You take away the grunge, you take away the smell, you take away the addiction, you take away all of these things, and these are wonderful, beautiful human beings — intelligent, talented, gifted.”
She spoke of one man who stayed at the shelter in its first year, who kept wanting to play the church’s organ. Snyder kept telling him no; however, his persistence eventually wore her down.
“He ended up being a talented player!” she said. “You just have to peel away those layers and tap into that. Lose the guilt, lose the depression, lose the guilt, lose the shame — whatever you’re dealing with.”
Snyder said SOUL plans to continue to run the Bethany shelter for as long as the Christian Church will allow and hopes the community will keep supporting their efforts.
“For the first season at the Bethany shelter, we were asking for people to donate sheets. And people were donating brand-new sheets. We weren’t expecting it. I just asked people to clean out their closets,” she said. “One woman donated five sets of sheets that I later saw at B.J.’s that were $50 a pair. She bought five of them! It was awesome!”
“We always tell everyone, ‘You can’t out-give God,’ and He’s proven that,” said Eric Snyder. “The more we give, the more we get. There was a joke we had that we needed to give away more money… We once had a thousand ears of corn that show up in our back yard, and we took them to the church, set them up in the fellowship hall and told people to grab corn.
“One of our homeless friends, who had gotten housing and started going to our church said, ‘Why didn’t you keep those?’ I said, ‘Because the more I give away, the more I get.’ The very next day, I got a thousand more ears of corn!” he said with a laugh. “So we all got together and cooked them up — the food bank ladies and us. We cut them up and froze them for the SOUL soups. Then we got another thousand ears of corn!”
“Three thousand ears of corn in a matter of days. My kids were so tired of seeing corn — it was everywhere!” added Cherith Snyder.
The thrift store also has a number of mattresses that have been donated to SOUL.
“You’re not allowed to sell used mattresses in the state of Delaware, so we give them away for free,” said Cherith Snyder matter-of-factly.
The Snyders plan to keep the thrift store open even after the community center is completed, to continue to collect supplies for the homeless they serve and gain funds to pay for their efforts.
They are currently in need of commercial kitchen equipment — a stove and dishwasher — as all of their Thursday-night soup efforts and soon-to-be soup kitchen are currently being prepared in a standard household kitchen.
“That would be a huge blessing,” said Eric Snyder.
SOUL also does food rescue, which Cherith Snyder said would benefit if and when the ministry is able to acquire a free-standing freezer.
“We’d be able to save more,” she said. “We do food rescue. So many things get thrown away. Yeah, it’s a little bit extra work, because you’ve got to cut around the bad part or whatever, but it’s still works.”
The ministry is also in need of skilled laborers to help with upcoming renovations, including electricians, carpenters, plumbers and HVAC workers.
SOUL will also pick up yard sale items that didn’t sell as donations to the thrift store. Volunteers are welcome to help in any capacity — be it working in the store, donating or helping make soup.
“You don’t have to be a part of a church; it’s a community center. Just come and help because you care about people,” said Eric Snyder.
Although they are currently renting the building, it is for sale, said Cherith Snyder. They hope that they will one day be able to purchase the property, which also houses storage units and a mechanic’s shop that would help provide additional income.
“You’re looking at our dream, because we asked a guy if we could have an indoor yard sale, because people gave us donations that weren’t within the need of the people we were serving,” said Eric Snyder. “We’re now making everything help… It’ll be fun to see where we are in a year.”
House of Mercy is located at 36674 DuPont Highway, north of Selbyville, on the southbound side. For more information on SOUL Ministries, House of Mercy and how to help, call (302) 632-4289. SOUL Ministries may also be found on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/soulministriesde.