Serving God and following Jesus have become physical expressions of faith for members of two Lower Bucks County churches who for years have answered the call to become Code Blue host sites, providing food and temporary shelter to the homeless in our community who risk freezing to death when the temperatures turn deadly cold each winter.
“This is what Jesus calls us to do,” said Doug Hoglund, pastor of Woodside Church in Yardley, which has been a host site since Code Blue started in 2009. “We aren’t following Jesus if we leave people out in the bitter cold.”
The non-profit organization Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need (AHTN) operates temporary Code Blue shelters in houses of worship during nights when the temperature outside dips to 26 degrees from December 1st through March 31st.
“It moves our faith from just words to action,” said Pastor Doug. “Code Blue turns our eyes away from ourselves and toward others. At times it is challenging but the blessings far outweigh the sacrifices.”
Living their faith was also an important motivation for the congregants of Calvary Baptist Church in Bristol to become a Code Blue host site.
“We had started to understand the need of homelessness in the Lower Bucks area,” said Pastor Dan Young. “Also, Calvary was very much in the learning curve of reaching out to its community. We needed a ‘faith stretcher’ to challenge our people. Several in the congregation rose quite well to the challenge.”
Both pastors said that the enthusiastic support of their congregations is what made their efforts to serve this community need possible.
“I am personally grateful for the way the Woodside family embraces this mission and our neighbors,” said Pastor Doug. “They’ve never asked, Why are we doing this? Instead, they ask, How can I be part of this?
“And I’ve met wonderful people through Code Blue – both the guests and helpers from other congregations,” he said. “I’m also finding it’s true that you meet Jesus as you do for others.”
It takes 18 volunteers to staff the Code Blue shelter each night it is open. Last year, AHTN opened 52 nights between December of 2021 and March of 2022. The number of guests served during the Code Blue 2021-2022 season totaled 159, with an average of 27 guests per night.
“The Code Blue team does an excellent job of breaking down this large mission into manageable roles but this does mean we need many hands and hearts to open the shelter on frigid nights,” said Pastor Doug.
The temporary shelter opens at 8:15pm at the host church and provides a safe and warm place to eat dinner and sleep. The shelter closes the next morning at 7:00am, when the guests leave.
Both pastors said that working closely with the homeless through Code Blue has helped their congregations see the individual people that make up the homeless population in Lower Bucks County in a whole new way.
“Code Blue is helping to dispel the cloud of misunderstanding that surrounds our neighbors who are homeless,” said Pastor Doug. “They may have different needs but they are people just like us.”
“Our people have responded well with statements that they never knew how great the need was and that they used to be afraid of homeless people,” said Pastor Dan. “Those fears are now largely gone. A number of our people have actually developed friendships with some of the homeless folks.”
Both pastors have said they have personally benefited from not only seeing their congregations respond so positively to this mission but by volunteering themselves.
“There have been times when my wife and I served side by side in the 2:30am to 7:00am night shift,” said Pastor Dan. “We enjoyed living out our faith together. I have also enjoyed watching Calvary people lose their fear of homeless people and develop friendships.”
Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need is looking for additional houses of worship who are open to supporting their mission of saving lives by eliminating deaths through exposure to extreme cold and hunger among the homeless and needy who live among us.
“At this point in time, AHTN is seeking two additional houses of worship that would be willing to host Code Blue in their space” said Karen Mineo, AHTN’s Executive Director. “Woodside Church and Calvary Baptist Church have really risen to the needs of our homeless friends the last 13 years, but in order to run Code Blue for all four winter months AHTN needs to secure two additional houses of worship to each take one month of the winter.”
And while working with the homeless is not without its challenges, both pastors would not hesitate to recommend it to other religious leaders looking for an opportunity to impact their community.
Pastor Dan at Calvary said that “without a doubt” he would recommend that other houses of worship become Code Blue sites.
“The tendency of those who are part of houses of faith can be an internal focus,” he said. “An internal focus can leave the attendees pretty comfortable with their own group and they lose the focus on reaching out – they need to stretch their faith.”
And knowing that the need is great and that many volunteers are required to serve that need makes Pastor Doug recommend that more area houses of worship get involved in Code Blue.
“As my mother said, ‘Many hands make light work’, he said. “A small investment of time on your part returns an immeasurable spiritual reward. And you are literally saving lives by providing refuge from the biting icy temperatures.”
Calvary and Woodside have the physical facilities required to host the temporary shelter each year and both pastors view the giving of those facilities over to Code Blue a key way that their churches can benefit their communities.
“We have been blessed with a large facility and part of our faith journey has been to figure out how we can steward our facility in a helpful way to our community,” said Pastor Dan. “Code Blue has been a near perfect part of the answer.”
And while every congregation may not have the physical space to be a host site, all congregations can support the mission through giving donations and providing volunteers for Code Blue.
“We realize not every church can be a host site,” Pastor Doug said, “but every congregation can send disciples to be part of the team.”