Residents of Hammond, Indiana, often recite the phrase, If you need help, go to the golf ball church, more formally known as The Gate.
Wells, 54, has been with the ministry 23 years, but the soup kitchen, Caring Hands, started 30 years ago, providing a hot meal on Saturday afternoons to those in need. That has grown into the robust umbrella ministry called InnerMisison, which also features a food pantry, clothes closet, emergency shelter, an afterschool program, and affordable housing.
In addition to holding a weekly worship service, the soup kitchen provides a hot meal and groceries to the 30-40 people who attend the Saturday meetings.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, InnerMission has not missed a beat. In warm weather, meals have been served outside. Now they are in-house, with social distancing being observed. With drive-in services and distribution of groceries in the parking lot for drive-by pick-up, the InnerMission team continues to serve, week in and week out.
Volunteers go to local restaurants and businesses where food donations such as day-old bread and out-of-date commodities are collected. The InnerMission’s community garden is also a source of food.
Team members Angelica Weaver and Victor Roman Jr. initiated the garden project. They saw the need in the neighborhood across from “the Golf Ball,” and cleaned up and revitalized the area. Now the garden is tended by people who attend the Gate, as well as other local residents.
By tending the garden and helping to harvest vegetables, some of the newly independent residents, who resided in the church’s shelter, can give back to those who first gave to them.
“We have a goal to take people from just surviving to thriving,” says Wells, who with his wife, Debbie, has taken five young women in need of mentoring into his home for an extended time. “Where there is so much instability, InnerMission is seen as a stable force in our community.”
Angelica Weaver, a 24-year-old graduate of Indiana University in Bloominton, is case manager with InnerMission. After her involvement with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at IU, Weaver knew she wanted to continue serving people in a social work career.
“The biggest challenge is breaking the poverty mentality, because it can go back for so many generations, and involve child care, single moms, securing good-paying jobs, and much more,” Weaver says.
Because of The Gate’s reputation for helping the poor, the City of Hammond — a municipality of 75,500 residents just southeast of Chicago — has reached out to Wells and his team on numerous occasions to brainstorm about lasting solutions.
“We’re here not to enable, but to help people in need of becoming stable,” says Wells. “We don’t want to provide toxic charity.”
By partnering with the city, InnerMission is transitioning to offer financial literacy classes to those clients who are interested. Qualifying residents also can receive a grant for job training and affordable housing.
“We put the net out for those who want it,” Wells says. “We make people feel known and understood despite their shame. We endeavor to empower them.”