A downtown ministry that continues to aid the needful during the pandemic could use a helping hand itself, according to supporters.
The Christian Assistance Ministry, 110 McCullough Ave., has been offering support to anyone in need since 1977, and does so without government funding.
When COVID-19 began sweeping across the region last spring, many of CAM’s older volunteers began staying away due to fears of getting sick.
Meanwhile, more people — among them the impoverished and the unsheltered — needing food, showers, mail service and other relief began showing up.
“We went from about 200 volunteers to just a handful in a matter of days,” said CEO Dawn White-Fosdick. “At the exact same time, the number of clients we serve increased dramatically. This meant we had to hire more staff to keep moving forward. It created additional expenses and a strain on our budget.”
Founded by a loose-knit association of nine downtown churches, today there are 85 houses of worship enabling CAM to serve more than 60,000 people annually as the “emergency room of social services.”
Appointments for clients aren’t required. The staff assists anyone regardless of creed, color, origins or religious affiliation.
Not having to rely on government assistance has its positives, White-Fosdick said.
“Our funding comes 100% from individuals, churches and foundations. Not accepting funding from any governmental organization be it city, state or federal makes us more nimble. We don’t have to deal with as much red tape and when a genuine need has been assessed, we don’t have to jump through hoops and deal with regulations that can weigh you down,” she said.
White-Fosdick added, “I like to say that we’re society’s gap filler for the underprivileged.”
CAM is housed on Grace Lutheran Church property; rent is $1 yearly.
Two men distributing sack lunches, bottled water and sodas in August’s heat said a New Testament passage motivates them to volunteer.
“It tells us in the Bible to help the poor, to be compassionate and to help those in need. It’s a way for us to give back,” said one.
Services include financial aid to purchase an ID; utility assistance to avoid disconnection; help paying for prescription medications and transportation; providing the homeless with free mailbox service — with 200 to 300 already receiving their mail there; issuing clothing, shoes, backpacks, school supplies and personal hygiene items; and no-cost meals Monday through Saturday.
Other agencies provide free food downtown on Sundays, CAM officials explained.
While CAM doesn’t offer overnight shelter, showers are available Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, located in a specially built, 18-wheeler trailer.
“Last February, the city of San Antonio got approval to purchase another shower truck for our use, but because of the pandemic, the acquisition process has stalled,” White-Fosdick said. “Meanwhile, the city helps with towel service, and general cleaning of that facility.”
Several patrons — asking not to use last names — said CAM is a godsend.
“I don’t come here much, but when I do, they are always ready to help,” Marc said.
Added Kate, “It’s a very useful presence. It helps to take the pressure off.”
William, who’s originally from Los Angeles, but is now in San Antonio by way of Corpus Christi, said, “It’s a great resource. It gives people hope and it shows people that someone cares.”
White-Fosdick said CAM needs donations of useful, practical clothing such as clean T-shirts and jeans, comfortable shoes including sneakers (not high heels or dress wear), new socks and underwear, and diapers.
“We have a never-ending need for those,” said White-Fosdick, who was been with CAM 10 years.
Other ways to help:
“Make a few extra sandwiches at home, freeze them, and deliver them to us once a month,” White-Fosdick said. “Grab some plastic bags and fill them up with hygiene items and toiletries such as small-size bottles of shampoo, toothpaste and so on.”
To volunteer or donate, call 210-223-4099 or visit https://christianassistanceministry.org/.
In addition, a satellite ministry is on the North Side at 5084 De Zavala Road; for more, call 210-697-5771.