Beginning a business as a dog groomer was the ambition of Dina,* who wanted a fresh start when she moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. She had secured the resources to start her business, but then the pandemic hit, quickly depleting her finances and leaving her without a home.
Living in her car in a city where she had no friends or family, Dina connected with Cokesbury United Methodist, a church with a long history of addressing food insecurity, walking alongside single-parent households, providing recovery ministries, and opening their space to the community.
Taking advantage of resources like overnight parking passes, showers, laundry facilities and case management from supportive volunteers, Dina was able to secure an apartment. Today she supports herself and volunteers on the tech team at the church.
According to Katie McIlwain, Cokesbury’s director of outreach services, in the 1990s, the church purchased a vacant Lowe’s building across the street from their church facility and created a community center.
“We opened up our space to make it a gift and blessing to our community,” McIlwain says of the ministry that is now called Fig Tree.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a combination of skyrocketing housing prices and a citywide effort to disperse homeless camps led to more people in the suburbs living without homes and without the traditional outreaches that are typically available in the city. Cokesbury has offered resources such as showers, haircuts, computer use and a supply closet with fresh blankets, clothing and hygiene items. They also have extended a support system and a listening ear with a focus on learning names and building relationships. Recently, a local grant let them hire a housing case manager; so far in 2023, the church has helped eight people secure housing with a goal of 25 total over the course of the year.
“We may not be able to wave a magic wand over the hard things going on in people’s lives,” McIlwain says. “But what we can do is make sure they don’t have to walk through the hardest season of their lives alone.”
* Not her real name.