Ministry Spotlight: The Family Service Center

This week’s post is by Chris Callan and Steve Baird, both of whom volunteer with Church of the Redeemer at the Family Service Center in Maplewood. Chris and his wife, Leena, are on the church’s Missions and Outreach team, and he writes about how his heart for such work has grown over the years.  And if you’re interested in volunteering, Steve writes about what to expect.

The next opportunity to serve at the Family Service Center is Saturday, Dec. 27, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Chris: God has placed me alongside people on the margins of society for some time now.  In college I volunteered at a shelter in Minneapolis.  I spent four Saturday nights there during my senior year.  I spent most of my time there talking with people, hearing their stories, playing chess, and just being there to listen.  It opened me up to a world I knew existed but hadn’t experienced.

At that point my thought was: There is much suffering in our world, and most of the time people are born into it.  I later volunteered with Big Brothers and and did mission work in the Dominican Republic, where poverty and corruption were widespread. Then, I spent four years at the YWCA working with at-risk youth in St. Paul.

Over the years I’ve realized there is a lot we can do to help people less fortunate than ourselves.  But, I don’t think it was until recently that I came to realize, really realize, that this is God’s command, not merely a request.  It’s pretty clear in Matthew 25:31-36 that God calls us to serve the poor.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

My wife has a heart for people on the margins as well.  She worked as a transitional housing case manager for single mothers for a couple of years. This type of work is part of our family – and church’s – mission.  At Church of the Redeemer, we wanted to build a consistent opportunity to volunteer in the same ministry. Catholic Charities suggested the Family Service Center, a transitional homeless shelter for families.  It houses people for 30 days and provides resources to help families.  A team of people from Church of the Redeemer serves meals there about eight times a year.  We offer not only our time, but we also make a donation for the food.

Sometimes I’ll get anxious a few days before volunteer day if there are only a couple of people signed up.   I’m sure the Lord is smiling and shaking His head: “There he goes again thinking he’s the one running this thing.” People always step up, and we always have more than enough help. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing church members connect with the families at the Center. It’s awesome to see people offer not just a meal but a listening ear and heart.


Steve: Every few weeks a team of six volunteers from Church of the Redeemer assembles in the kitchen of the center to serve dinner.  We don our aprons and go to work.  (Guys, bring a baseball cap or you’ll be sporting a hair net.)

The families who are staying at the Center are different each time we serve, but the situations are always similar — a breadwinner out of work, unemployment due to a skills deficit or a criminal record, folks dealing with a financial crisis, or struggling single moms.

We work under the direction of a staff member, but we do some cooking and food prep ourselves — slicing bread, opening cans of fruit and vegetables, making fries, preparing salad, and roasting meat. The meals are basic family-friendly fare—burgers, spaghetti, mac and cheese, always with vegetables and fruit.  Kids must be served veggies and milk!   Every once in a while, the menu includes something special.  Recently, we served ribs, which were delicious.

When the meal is done, the moms, dads, and kids drop off their trays, and then we fire up the dishwasher and clean the kitchen. Serving these families enables us to be the presence of Christ to people in transition.  If you can spare time on a late Saturday afternoon, consider joining us.