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Churches making progress to help homeless
Group decides on name and to file for nonprofit status
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Game of the Week: North Hall at Gainesville


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Next info session

When: 6:30 p.m. March 21
Where: First Baptist Church, 751 Green St. NW, Gainesville
Contact: Lindsey McCamy, Gainesville United Methodist Church, 770-536-2341

A handful of Hall County churches are inching closer to helping Gainesville's homeless population get off the streets.

More than 40 people from 11 local congregations met at Gainesville United Methodist Church on Monday night to talk about a national program that could help them host families.

Monday's meeting was the second time the group has met to consider the Family Promise program, which provides shelter, meals and support for homeless families in the community. Under the setup, 13 local churches would provide overnight lodging and volunteers who cook meals, with each church signing up for four weeks of service per year.

"What really struck me at the last meeting is that the hardest thing is finding the 13 congregations to sign up," said Barbara Ebrite of Gainesville United Methodist Church. "That can't be. That's wrong. If we all go on mission trips, we need to be doing something here to help at home."

The group of five different denominations decided to move forward with the process Monday by choosing the name Family Promise of Hall County and beginning to file for nonprofit status. They also split up into teams to start recruiting host churches, finding funds and searching for donation items.

"I'm super excited. I can't wait to get started," said Jackie Greene of First Baptist Church in Gainesville. "I've never felt so passionate about something other than teaching. Let's do this."

The Family Promise program takes 18 to 24 months to set up in a community in order to recruit the 13 churches, raise about $125,000 in money for the first year and secure plenty of volunteers, said Tom Cioffi, board president of the Family Promise network in Gwinnett County.

Cioffi led the first two meetings and will continue to help the Hall County program get on its feet.

"We'll come in and help you start this. If we had half this group, we could start this," Cioffi said. "We'll take small steps each month. If everybody knows what is expected, it works really well."

Several people raised questions about those who are on the streets now.

"In the meantime, there are many needs out there, and that's what concerns me," said Gainesville City Council member George Wangemann. "One of the first places that people think of is Good News at Noon because it is well established, but there are so many people out there."

For now, the group needs to get started.

"The need is incredible, and we need to gather all the forces to help the people who are less fortunate," said the Rev. Jaime Barona of St. Michael Catholic Church. "As unemployment rises in Hall County, more people are coming to us for help with utilities and food, and they're losing their homes."

Each month the teams will meet and update the entire group.

"It took us 12 months to open our doors. I dare you to beat us," Cioffi said. "If you break the big puzzle apart, it's not so hard to do."