A Glimpse of Hope

She sways to the music with one hand in the air. It’s the old familiar hymn about Surrender, and she knows every word. I see her cry, smile, sing, and even dance a little. She looks happy, and whole.  While the song lasts, she has forgotten the torment of her pain, her addiction, and her life on the streets.

This woman, V*, walked into Hope Cafe for dinner that night and she stayed after for our worship hour. Many of us at Cityteam know her. We’ve seen her struggles and tried to help her in the ways that we can. Tonight, as I sit down beside her, I’m looking forward to the music and it looks like we have this in common.

The band plays a few songs, and the music is great. It sounds good, but it feels better.  I find myself settling down, chaos within me being smoothed out. I see that V is enjoying herself, too, and then the time comes to sit and talk about tonight’s Bible verses.

We are talking about Jesus. The passage says that all who are thirsty can come to Him for a kind of water that restores our souls. We all say a couple of things and V tells me she wants to go to rehab, this time for real. In the next breath, she tells me about her plans for her next drink. The demons of her past haunt her and alcohol has a hold that seems unbreakable.  Then she says the thing I’ll never forget.

“I know Jesus gets me,” she says and holds her hand to her chest. “He understands me, He understands my heart.” She’s right, He totally does. Sometimes we spend all this time trying to figure out God, trying to make sense of who He is. And there it is, the most important thing: Jesus has us figured out.

He gets us, all the parts of us. The parts that are not cleaned up, that are unhealed. He knows them all and He loves us richly. He understands and his response to our brokenness is not to abandon a seemingly hopeless cause but to make an offer to quench our thirsty souls. Thank you, V, I really needed that.

The music starts again and this is the one that gets her to sing. “All to Jesus, I surrender. All to Him I freely give.” I am moved by the peace she is granted in her momentary surrender. I join her, reminded of how good it is to sing to a God who knows it all and loves us still.

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*V’s real name has been omitted to protect her privacy

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Thanks very much to Joel Gerlach for editing this story.

Spring is Here! Six Ways to Help at Cityteam This Season

Warmer weather is headed our way, at last! If you are looking for ways to get out and make a difference in the lives of people in need, check out our list:

1. Drive. We have an URGENT need for volunteer drivers to help with our daily food pickups. These pickups are the primary resource for our daily food outreach programs. Volunteer shifts are Monday through Friday 7:30-11:30am or 12:30-3:30pm. Email us at philadelphia@cityteam.org for more details.

hope cafe randy

Randy Conroy, of our Advisory Board serves at Hope Cafe

2. Serve. Gather a group and join us for our newest initiative, Hope Cafe, where our cafeteria becomes a restaurant style dining experience for our guests from the streets. Your team will be our waiters/waitresses, kitchen helpers, bus people and more while serving a delicious served to order meal to our community. Email eyespelkis@cityteam.org to get more information!

3. Pack and Deliver. Easter is one of our favorite holidays at Cityteam, celebrating the hope Jesus has shared with us all. One way we connect with our community during this time is through packing and delivering special holiday food boxes and kids’ Easter baskets. You and your family can get in on the fun by signing up online! (click here)

4. Support. Our seventh annual Angel Event fundraiser for our Mother and Baby program is coming soon on April 18th. This year’s luncheon and silent auction will feature live music and exciting auction items. All proceeds from this fundraiser support the young moms and babies we serve in our community. You can help by buying a ticket, hosting a table or contributing to our auction. Click here for more details, and see one of our favorite testimonials below.

5. Collect. As the weather is changing,  we are in need of outgrown children’s clothing for spring and summer. If you are cleaning out your kids’ closets and have clothing that you would re-use yourself, please consider donating to Cityteam.

6. Share. Help us spread the word to your friends by sharing this blog post.

As always, thanks for reading, praying and making our ministry great by staying involved.

–Kwinn

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

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.

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

Like our post? Please share! ~Kwinn

A Father’s Story: Coming Back From a Life of Addiction

by Doug Black

“She won the lottery!”

He stopped me in the hall at Cityteam, holding his cell phone with the biggest, proudest grin.”Who?”, I asked. “My daughter! She won [a large amount] on her scratch-off ticket!”

He was excited. Whether or not you agree with playing the lottery, it’s pretty easy to get excited about a suitcase full of money. But, besides the money, he was excited about something else. “I’m so glad she’s provided for. Almost like God’s making up for what I couldn’t do.”

He relived the accounts of his time on the street. He told me how his wife would overlook his crack cocaine sales and stay home to take care of the kids. How he would make sure he wouldn’t use his own “product” like all the other guys. His plan to be a smart businessman, keeping from the arguments and gang violence that the other guys would get involved with.

He spent time telling me about how he began using crack “here and there” until it took control of his life. There were days he would wake up in an abandoned house, covered in his own filth and drug residue. His wife and kids, unaware of his location, would just wait and pray. Then, loud and heated discussions came once Daddy got home.

Until, ultimately, there was no home left to return to.

And that’s when he came to the Men’s Recovery Program at CityTeam. His attitude that kept him from interacting with folks in a happy manner dissipated. His lack of empathy that kept him far from his kids was washed away. Hours of hard work on his recovery, nights of praying to God for his addiction issues lead to a changed heart–and a new relationship with his family. One that continues to this day.

Addiction is a family destroyer; it doesn’t just break the bonds between family members, it decimates the emotional and physical strength of everyone involved. Typically, a male who uses drugs will find himself soon divorced, estranged from children, and ignored by other family members who deny they even know him.

Doug Headshot

Doug Black Recovery Manager at Cityteam

We’re grateful at Cityteam that we get to be part of the healing. Not just healing the body, but seeing souls mended. Witnessing finances come back on track, and broken families get pieced back together. Just like this man, who graduated our program, and returned back into his kids’ lives.

Click Here To See How Addiction Impacts Us All

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