Local ministry brings food, and hope, to area’s homeless
SOUL Ministries, a nondenominational Christian group, was created in December 2013 by a group of individuals from Bethel Tabernacle Church (BTC) in Clarksville.
SOUL stands for “Serving Others Under the Lord,” according to Cherith Snyder, who heads the ministry along with her husband, Eric.
“It’s about God and the people we help,” said Snyder, adding that the group does not seek recognition for their work.
Multiple times a week, members of the ministry drive to various area homeless communities and provide the people there with food, clothing, toiletries and, most importantly, Snyder said, hope.
“Twice a week, we do hot soup, breads and desserts. That’s something they can eat right then and there, warm, to fill up their stomachs and take the edge off the cold weather,” she explained.
SOUL also provides nonperishable foods and can openers, first aid supplies, bug spray, sunscreen, toiletries and more.
“Anything you could possibly imagine that they could possibly need,” explained Snyder.
The ministry operates with the help of volunteers and whatever they can find to bring to those in need.
“We are completely 100 percent donation-based,” noted Snyder. “We’ve just been reaching out to the community. A lot of local churches are contributing, as well as people who have a good heart who like our vision and what we do.”
Snyder said food and miscellaneous items that are distributed are paid for either through donation, or sometimes from her family’s own pockets.
Helping the homeless controversial
According to Snyder, while their mission may seem noble to most, the ministry’s efforts have received a mixed response.
“I was kind of shocked. I figured everyone would be for it,” she said. “There are a select few who have given me a hard time, saying that I’m enabling people. There are people out there who are putting a label on a homeless person and who say they’re all drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill. I don’t think that’s true. I know that’s not true, because I visit these guys every single week.”
Snyder said she’s had many conversations with people who do not believe in what they are doing.
“I had one in-depth conversation with a lady about what her issue was... ‘If he has money to go out and buy a bottle of alcohol, he can go out and buy his own blanket,’” Snyder recalled the woman saying. “You’re absolutely correct,” Snyder said she replied. “He could save up his money and do that, but guess what — he’s not going to. He’s sick. An alcoholic is sick. They’re not going to make the proper decisions…
“Before we went through this endeavor I had judgments… I was so, so wrong,” she acknowledged. “It’s just incredible to see all walks of life.”
“You can buy a large can of beer for 89 cents,” she added. “Alcohol is actually less expensive than bottled water. It’s just ridiculous. I would much rather them go ahead and have the things they need to sustain the life that they have now, versus not having a life later on.”
Friendship, fellowship at core of mission
Snyder said SOUL Ministries is different from many other organizations who are working to help the homeless and needy population.
“We’re there to hang out with them, talk to them, to spend time with them. We eat with them. One of the ladies, she said, ‘I love it when you guys come. It’s great that you’re bringing the stuff that you bring. But what I like the most is that you come and eat at our house,’… because they consider the camps their homes.”
The ministry tries to serve the immediate needs of the homeless and needy in whatever way they can, without giving them direct financial assistance.
“They are down on their luck, but they’re also down on their spirits. Then they don’t feel worthy. They don’t feel they can do anything or amount to anything,” she said. “Through the fellowships we have and the friendships we end up building, we’re able to help them be more. Our main goal is to lift their spirits up and make them feel better.”
On Monday nights, the ministry travels to Millsboro and Rehoboth Beach, and Ocean City and West Ocean City, Md. On Tuesday nights, the volunteers have been at Immanuel Shelter in Rehoboth, which closed April 10 for the season. On Thursday nights, ministry volunteers travel to Seaford and Laurel and to Salisbury, Md.
Snyder said that, many times, the ministry locates groups and families through word of mouth.
“We actually go hunting. Homeless people are very private. They’re typically loners. They do not like people to know where their camps are… because a lot of times they’re trespassing on private property. A lot of times, they aren’t home during the day,” she said. “We just ask around.”
The Snyders’ youngest daughters, ages 11 and 14, sometimes go along with the ministry to deliver goods to the homeless communities.
“We also run into a lot of children — especially on Thursday nights,” she said. “Our kids choose to come along… They absolutely love it. Our 11-year-old wants to be a missionary.”
“We’re just trying to reach as many people as we can,” she continued. “We are bringing them the love of Jesus and lifting up their spirits… They are not their situation and not their circumstance.”
Snyder said the ministry’s volunteers make a conscious effort to not put on any airs when going out to homeless communities.
“We dress down when we go out. I wear beat-up pants and shoes… to let them know ‘I’m not better than you.’ I call them ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ We’re very casual with them, to let them know, ‘You’re my friend,’” she said. “‘Where you’re sleeping doesn’t make you any more or less than me.’”
Ministry looks to found year-round shelter
With the seasonal closure of the Immanuel Shelter and the clearing of the nearby camp, SOUL Ministries is taking the next step forward in their mission to help the homeless, working toward opening its own fulltime, year-round shelter in Sussex County.
“We’ve realized there is a huge need for Sussex County,” Snyder said.
She emphasized that the ministry needs to work on getting funding for the shelter, and has been in brainstorming as to whether to use an existing building or rent or purchase another property.
“I’ve actually looked at a building in Oak Orchard that we could rent or purchase,” she said. “But we’re still in the beginning stages.”
Spiritual aspects of the ministry would be the primary focus of their shelter, said Snyder, noting that they want to offer more than a warm meal and place to sleep.
“My dream beyond all dreams is to be able to have a shelter open up by November,” she said, adding that they hope to have 50 beds. “We want to have services, devotionals, ministering. We plan to have AA meetings, NA meetings, drug and alcohol counselors come in. We’d like to have a computer lab,” she said. “Especially for the people who have been outside for a longer period of time — they really need rehabilitation.”
Snyder said she has worked with officials at Immanuel Shelter to contact Gov. Jack Markell, but according to Snyder, calls to the Governor’s Office have not been returned.
Snyder said they plan to write letters and continue to speak out about the homeless population in the area, and she is determined to get officials’ attention.
“I’m very persistent,” she said. “Something’s got to be done.”
She noted that getting funding would be a mixed blessing, because the ministry wants to run their future shelter by their rules, with God as the leading force.
“Do I want the state to come in and say I can’t say ‘God’?” she asked.
Volunteers aim to lift spirits, improve lives
Snyder said that there have already been numerous times when their encouragement has helped lift the spirits of someone in need.
“There was one man in Salisbury who had just been released from prison with a felony gun charge,” she recalled. Snyder said the man couldn’t find a job because of his record and wanted to give up. But through encouragement and work, he was able to find a job, and he thanked the ministry for their kind words.
“‘I just wanted to thank you guys for letting me know I’m worth something,’ she recalled him saying. “It has nothing to do with soup. It has nothing to do with clothes and toiletries. That man — he just comes by to say thanks, just to have fellowship with us.”
The ministry has received numerous testimonies about how they’ve helped those in need.
“I love all the testimonies I’ve heard along the way. Everyone in some way is broken. It’s how you cope with it and deal with the circumstances. People who don’t have the proper coping skills end up just getting lost and are unable to handle it.”
Snyder said those in the community who are opposed to helping the homeless population in the area should realize it is a growing problem and one that could happen to anyone at any time.
“In 2007, my husband was making over $200,000 a year as an independent contractor,” said Snyder, adding that, with the economic downturn, her husband was laid off and their family had to downsize in every way. “There are so many people who are one week away from being homeless. Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, that couldn’t happen to me.’ Everyone is in denial about it, but it really could be you. It could happen to anybody.”
On Saturday, April 5, the encampment commonly known as “tent city” in Rehoboth was dismantled. According to Snyder, there were four tents set up there at that time, with only two occupied.
When news broke that the tent city in Rehoboth would be shut down, the Snyders went to the woods to tell those residing there that they would have to leave.
“It was the most painful thing I’ve had to do in a very, very long time. It was just so emotional. This ‘tent city’ has been there for five years. There are guys who are still around who established the tent city. There was one man who was living there for three years… Even though it’s not your traditional four walls and a rood, it was still home to them.
“People who don’t even usually pray were screaming out to God… because they were able to have a little bit of normalcy, a little bit of permanency” in the camp, she said. “It was just completely devastating to them.”
Snyder said that seven of the nine people who had resided in the community stayed in her home for a number of nights following the eviction.
“Everyone is so excited that tent city is closed. ‘Now we’re not going to have any homeless people in Rehoboth!’ That’s absolutely ridiculous. You didn’t solve anything by breaking up tent city,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a crime to be homeless. When is somebody going to speak up who is louder than me to stop the insanity — these are human beings.”
Snyder said that, on Saturday, a number of concerned citizens held a peaceful gathering in Rehoboth to speak out against the evictions.
“It was just a peaceful stance to say we didn’t agree with what was happening.”
Snyder said she is hopeful for the future of the ministry’s dream of opening its own shelter and noted that none of their work would be possible without the love and strength they receive from God.
“None of us could do this without Him,” she said, adding that she feels she was given her position of leading the ministry by God. “My position is to be the voice of homelessness — to speak up for these guys. I feel like I need to stand up for them and for what’s right… I am just some concerned citizen who’s concerned about these people, who wants to help.
“We’re just grateful God chose us to do this. There are times when it does get stressful and hard, but God thinks we can do all that… It’s so rewarding. It’s so worth it.”
For more information on SOUL Ministries, to donate or volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/soulministriesde or contact Snyder at (302) 632-4289.