We’re Doing Something New

HOPEcafe_logo_CT_square“This is our restaurant, and these are our guests.”

If you have been for a visit to Cityteam, and if you’ve had the pleasure of talking to our chef and food coordinator, John Clifford, you’ve heard about his dream. His vision is that our cafeteria wouldn’t ever be called a “soup kitchen” even if there happens to be really great soup on the menu.

At Cityteam, we believe in helping people who have fallen on hard times. And we believe there’s a way to help people while preserving their dignity and  the respect everyone prefers to be shown. So it makes perfect sense that John would want people who are hungry–some without a home, others battling addiction, some elderly and alone–he would want the men, women and children eating dinner at Cityteam to walk into something as nice as what you might pay for somewhere else.

John Clifford, Food Services Coordinator

John Clifford, Food Services Coordinator


After a ten year battle with drug addiction I was left broken, homeless and in prison. Upon my release, I came into Cityteam’s recovery program in the spring of 2007. After God delivered me from addiction, I knew the only thing left was to serve Him and love those in need. Today I have the responsibility of serving over 21,000 people, physically and spiritually, in our food programs.


Serving dinner, well that isn’t a new thing at all for us. In 1989, Cityteam Chester opened its doors with only one offering for the community–a warm, nutritious meal and a kind word for people with no place else to eat. That first meal, donated and prepared by Woodlyn Baptist Church, was symbolic of the way Cityteam has continued to serve the community decades later–volunteers and partners pooling their time and resources to serve our neighbors in need.

Now, what began as a once-weekly community meal is now a full kitchen serving three meals a day, every day of the year. With each bit of growth, we have tried to remain true to our purpose of serving the way Jesus Christ did—filled with compassion, walking humbly and giving opportunity to share hope to people in the midst of painful circumstances. And somewhere along the way, as our food donations became more steady and we found more and more amazing volunteers, we began to think of ourselves as a kind of a restaurant.

“But this doesn’t really feel like a restaurant. Not really.”

Ouch. When a good friend of ours, an honest volunteer  who had been part of serving dinner at Cityteam spoke those words, John and I had to listen to her. You see, at a restaurant there are waitresses, and waiters, and people who help you find your seat. Your food isn’t plated up in advance and everyone’s plate doesn’t look exactly the same. Last year, after listening to this feedback, we realized we needed…more feedback. So we enlisted some faithful volunteers to be in a focus group to help us improve our meal program. They were honest, too. They shared the things they loved and they told us some of the frustrating parts of the meal program.

What resulted was an exciting idea. What if one night each week we turned our cafeteria into a café that actually felt like a restaurant? What if we did it in a way that gave volunteers and guests more opportunity to connect and share life experiences? What if we offered music and teaching about Jesus after dinner that was so inviting that people were excited to stay and invite others to come?

From those focus groups, Hope Café was born. Starting this weekend, our Saturday dinnertime outreach to the homeless and hungry members in our community will take new form by providing an outstanding personal dining experience, purposeful partner roles and appealing music and teaching. We are really excited and are looking for more groups to take on this project with us, almost like a mission trip right here in our neighborhood. Please help us share our vision and think about partnering with us!

Kwinn

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Special thanks to Media Presbyterian Church and the Senior Craftsmen there who dedicated lots of volunteer hours and devoted their resources to help us spruce up the cafeteria in preparation for this project.

If you like our post, please share with your friends! For more information, reach out to us at chester@cityteam.org.

“All I Want For Christmas”

“Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there”

Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Watch this little clip here if you don’t. At different points this Christmas, I have felt a little bit like Charlie. In my mind I know that this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but recent events and personal losses of my own–well they are difficult. And sad. And I find it a little confusing balancing these things with the expectations of this season.

I keep finding reassurance, though, in realizing that a world seemingly overtaken by injustice, tragedy and loss is the very reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus. The reasons He came, then, are the very same reasons we still need Him, now. He brings hope, peace, and grace to us. And we still see this hope come to life, even today.

I want to share with you an update of a story I wrote a few months ago. (You can read it here.) Last December, I watched a heroin addicted man I know walk away from Cityteam and into the cold. He was without hope that he could change and I was losing hope that he might have any strength left to try.  Last Christmas, I prayed that he wouldn’t die before he could get the help he needed.

Now, a year later, everything is different. This man celebrated another milestone this month. He has over 9 months clean and he has successfully completed our learning center program and he is one test away from completing his GED. I look at the hopelessness we both felt last Christmas, and I look at what Jesus is doing in this man’s life today and I am inspired. The same Jesus the world needed, then–He is still changing lives, now.

Recently, this man  wrote a paper about what heroin addiction does to a person, one of many papers he wrote during his time in the learning center. And he’s given me permission to share it here, which I am proud to do. The last line moved me, knowing how differently he saw things not that long ago. It reads: “Heroin is a huge downfall in the United States today and we all have to join in the fight against heroin addiction and the war can be won.”

A war that can be won. That is real hope. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Thank you, Jesus. Merry Christmas.

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

“The intense high the user seeks last only a few minutes. With continued use he/she needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel normal.”

His research paper about heroin is really informative. Please take a minute and read it by clicking here.

“Not Without Your Coat!”

Tucker-Oct2014-169w

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

My son is four, and he’s just the funniest little fellow. He’s all “kid”—all he wants to do is play. And rain or shine, he wants to play outside most of all. Last year we started teaching him how to zip up his coat. Now, it’s getting cold again, and it feels like he’s relearning from scratch. His little fingers get all tangled up and he gets frustrated, until he gets it, and he’ll glow with pride and charge right outside. With his coat, he doesn’t care how cold it is out there.

Having him in my life has changed the way I look at the world. I’ve always thought a kid in a big puffy jacket is the cutest thing, but now when I see children in their coats I think about their stories—whether they struggled to get the zipper up, and how long and hard they begged to play outside. And of course I think about their parents and how all any of us wants is to teach and protect our kids. “This is how you do the zipper.  You’ve gotta bundle up if you’re going outside.”

At Cityteam we have all kinds of wonderful opportunities to help families in our community. Every fall we are blessed with the chance to give new coats to hundreds of children in need. Each child gets just the right size, in their favorite color. They turn to look at a mom or dad who’s as happy as can be to see their own little puffy-coated kid beaming. It’s powerful because it’s so simple, a basic but essential need that we can fill for those who can’t. It’s a gift that gets used every day for months and months.  And all our kids can be running around, heading to school, doing kid stuff…and staying warm.

Special thanks to Drive Away the Cold,  Auto Dealers CARing for Kids, David Dodge Chrysler Jeep, Miller’s Dodge and Operation Warm for partnering together with Cityteam this year to give hundreds of kids brand new winter coats.



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Humble Pie

Verdell Thomas

I want to tell you about Ms. Verdell Thomas. She was one of the most memorable people I’ve ever met at Cityteam, and she was humble. I think about humility a lot, because I struggle with it: I read about Jesus, a God who became a man, living and suffering along with us, and his example is powerful but can be tough to follow. I think that’s why there are people like Ms. Verdell–when we seek to become authentically humble, here they come–an example of the real thing.

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

There is so much work to do at a place like Cityteam, and even early on I noticed myself drawn to certain kinds of work. There are jobs that guarantee a certain level of human connection: holding a baby, or teaching someone to use a computer, or even serving meals. Honestly? Certain kinds of jobs just feel more fulfilling than others. And I’ve noticed over the years that I’m not alone. Most people are drawn to certain kinds of “jobs” at places like Cityteam.

Meanwhile, there is so much other work to be done, a lot of it less obviously “rewarding.” One of the toughest jobs for me was sorting through bags of donated clothing. People are so generous that sometimes we have piles and piles of clothes to sort through. And then the room will fill up again for next week. But that’s where Ms. Verdell could always be found, sitting in a chair in the back of the clothing donation room, surrounded by bags of clothes.

See, I didn’t even notice her at first. That job kept her away from the crowd, and she would simply arrive and go right to work. I had a hard time figuring her out, she was quite a bit older than me and she hardly ever smiled. Once I saw her, I had to find out her name and introduce myself. And then I saw her smile! “Well, hi!” she said, and of course she already knew my name.

Well, that began our friendship which sadly only lasted a few years before she passed. But in that time she affected me deeply. She’d bake every week and bring different pies or cakes for the volunteers to enjoy. Out of loyalty to her, I tried sweet potato pie and carrot cake for the first time. I’ll always be grateful for that introduction, although I’m still looking for any that tastes as good as hers.

But of course she taught me in much deeper ways than educating my palate. She showed me what true humility in service is. She tirelessly took on that donation pile, for hours each week. She had a greater understanding of just how important that work really is. Kids need those clothes. And the clothes need sorting so we can be sure they’re clean, safe, and in good shape.

Maybe that’s all humility is, really, the lesson for me, from Jesus to Verdell is this: see where there is need. See where there is suffering. And then go to work. Maybe it’s just that simple.

Ms. Verdell's Recipe she was generous enough to share

Ms. Verdell’s Recipe she was generous enough to share

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Backpack Day

IMG_2689Backpack day at Cityteam is a big day for a lot of people. Dozens of volunteers from all around work together. Hundreds of families come together to celebrate the start of another school year. And over two thousand children take home new backpacks filled up with school supplies. The best way to tell the story is to hear it from the people who’ve been there.

Volunteers make this event possible…

“I’d heard about City Team for years. When I finally came down to “Back to School” Day in 2012, so many things fell into place for me. This is the work I’d been hearing God tell me to get involved with for so long. This is the help that the community needs—practical needs like backpacks and school supplies being met, a critical stone in the foundation of education that these kids need. This is the place where I can make a difference, mere minutes from my house.”

Parents  anticipate a safe and fun carnival for their kids…

“My kids love the party and I love spending time with my kids. We can’t afford to go anywhere special and this gives the kids something to talk about when they go back to school and not feel left out”

“This means so much because my kids know that there is someone from the community that cares about them and their education.”

Anna Donahoe organizes this event every year…

(100)“I love thinking about what this might mean to the children receiving brand new backpacks filled with brand new supplies. As a parent, I love the feeling of sending my own children off to school with their clean, new backpack. I am so grateful and humbled to have the opportunity to watch so many other children and families have the same experience through Cityteam’s Back to School program.

The highlight of the day for me is the sense of community that is present on this day. We have good food, carnival games and we all come together as a community and do something positive for children. God is definitely present at Cityteam’s Back to School Event and I am sure that he is smiling.”


And the kids’ 
thank you notes probably say it best…

 

kids thank you'sIMG_2595

 

 

Watch here to see these sweet little ones talk about their new backpacks:

How I Came To Cityteam

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

I’m fairly certain that the reason I work here today is because of a 5 year old boy I met at Cityteam back in 1998–this Cityteam branch was a small shelter with rooms for families, and my friends and I had started volunteering there. This little 5 year old boy’s family was staying at the Cityteam shelter. We became friends when a few volunteers and I decided to bring a Christmas tree to liven up the shelter for the holidays. Here, was this little boy, who had been living in a shelter and yet he was completely thrilled by this Christmas tree and having someone to play with him.

It didn’t take much from me to make that little guy happy. To be honest, what I loved most about him was that he picked me. Every time I came back, he would come running, wanting to sit in my lap to read books and show me his toys. He picked me, and I adored him. I always left a little bit happy, slightly sad, and yet anxious to come back again to help in any way that I could.

I continued to volunteer, and throughout my time there, God began to change me. Being down there, volunteering at the shelter, became a part of my life rather than a departure from the norm. Four years later, I transitioned from volunteering into working at Cityteam Chester.

I love what we do here. People’s lives are made better because of this place. People find food, clothes, shelter, recovery from addiction or even a friend–right here at Cityteam. You can plainly see the hope and love found in knowing Jesus through the work we do.

It’s inspiring. What started out for me as an attempt to bring life into my faith, has become so much more. I’ve been a part of wonderful things that have helped people and Jesus has change my own life in ways I never imagined. Just like that 5 year old boy, my time at Cityteam Chester has been more of a gift to me than anything else. Come check us out or maybe even volunteer, I know it will be the same for you, too.

Five Things About Cityteam Chester

PH_04.13.11_009Welcome to the Cityteam Chester Blog!  For our first post, we are sharing a few facts that you may not know about us.

 1. In 1989, before we even had a kitchen, our first ministry was serving one meal each week to hungry people in Chester.  Volunteers at Cityteam Chester prepared and served food to people sitting on milk crates at make-shift tables. Our cafeteria looks a little nicer these days and we now serve over 200 meals prepared in our kitchen every day.

2. Cityteam Chester is supported by over 500 volunteers and serves over 18,000 people each year. Everyone involved in Cityteam Chester has a unique story of how God is using them and changing their lives. Read my story here.

3. Each year, several families get to leave the urban environment of the busy city for a fun-filled week of family camp with Cityteam. What most people don’t know is that our youngest camper was a little boy who was only 1 month old! He will turn 11 years old this summer.

4. Our on-site Nursing Clinic, sponsored by Widener University, provides free primary health care to uninsured or underinsured men, women, and children. Our clinic was featured in Widener’s most recent magazine (page 14).

5. In the early 1900’s long before it became a place for homeless Cityteam Chester Buildingand addicted men to find shelter and recovery, our building was first a Buick dealership. Some time after the dealership had gone, the first floor was a local dance hall. Behind the layers of paint there are hearts surrounding the names of former Chester residents who had pledged their love to each other.

Check back for upcoming posts featuring stories, updates and photos of what’s happening at Cityteam Chester!

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director