The Cooperative Council of Ministries (CcoM) is a coalition of 21 member churches, 52 other churches and community organizations that address many human needs, both local and global. Among their many projects is the Meals Program at the Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center, which is a homeless shelter in Prince William County, Virginia.
During the late 1980’s, CcoM members approached the county to fund a homeless shelter. Original members were attempting to house the homeless on cots in their own churches. To help the county budget for the 30-bed shelter, CcoM agreed to coordinate, purchase, cook, and serve hot dinners, and provide breakfast and lunch items 365 days a year. The county agreed to provide the building and contract with a nonprofit agency, Volunteers of America Chesapeake, to operate the Center. The Center opened in August of 1990 with a unique three-way partnership that provides several levels of support to an average of 400 homeless men, women, and children annually.
CCoM’s role in providing meals offers the families at the Center an opportunity to interact with community members from various churches on a rotating basis. Churches or organizations accept an assignment of 1 to 7 days of meal preparation annually or several times during the year. During their turn preparing meals, church members often sit and talk with the residents and act as unofficial mentors. As volunteers, they often go above and beyond the Meals Program by helping residents with job and housing leads. Some of the churches also post information about their church and offer transportation to their services.
CCoM volunteers prepare the schedule and distribute it to the meal coordinator of each church or organization. Church representatives meet with the county and nonprofit representatives on a monthly basis. Approximately 30 volunteers per church prepare and serve their scheduled evening meals and provide breakfast and lunch foods for the following day. There are more than 1,300 volunteers that participate in the Meals Program. County budgetary figures estimate the savings to taxpayers, including food and labor, at over $100,000 per year. Leftovers or additional food is taken to a hypothermia shelter that serves men and women during the winter.
CcoM volunteers also assist in a variety of skill-building activities in partnership with Volunteers of America staff. They have computer training for residents, budgeting classes, and they raise funds to benefit the residents. The volunteers also landscape and have created a playground and patio at the Center.