A over-capacity crowd jammed the Santa Maria Del Mar Catholic Church in Flagler Beach Sunday evening to raise money for The Sheltering Tree, the only cold-weather shelter for the homeless in Flagler County. The Shelter is run by the Flagler County Family Assistance Center and staffed entirely by volunteers organized in teams from various churches around the county and unaffiliated groups.
Fundraiser organizers dubbed it a “stunning success,” as it raised nearly $4,500 for the Shelter, with food donated by area restaurants and raffles and door prizes.
Restaurants donating food included Giovanni’s Mezzaluna, Larry’s Deli, Pasta Pasta, Rocky’s, Anthony’s Pizza, Houligan’s, Terranova, Highjacker’s, and Olive Garden. Music and entertainment was provided by Palm Coast headliner entertainers Debbie Owen and Tony T. Space for the event was donated by the Santa Maria Del Mar Catholic Church.
The Fundraiser featured success stories about the work of the Shelter and provided critical information about the homeless in Flagler County and the challenges they face every day. “As a volunteer, once you see the need and experience the group effort to help out, it’s a great feeling,” Charlie Ericksen, the county commissioner and a Sheltering Tree volunteer, once wrote of his experiences there.
The Sheltering Tree has provided the homeless with food and extreme weather shelter since 2008, opening its doors overnight at Fellowship Hall at Bunnell’s First United Methodist Church whenever the temperature falls to 40 degrees or below. The shelter is also dedicated to providing basic needs to the homeless, including clothes, shoes and hygiene products, while helping them make the transition to permanent affordable housing and preventing at-risk individuals from becoming homeless. The shelter also provides food, tents and sleeping bags.
“On [Jan. 25] we provided security deposits for two gentlemen so that they could move into apartments and get out of homelessness,” Susan Bickings, a member of the Sheltering Tree’s board of directors, wrote in her update at the end of January. “Both gentlemen were vetted through Flagler County Human Services, so we know that once the security deposit was paid they can continue to sustain their housing rentals on their own. Talk about success!”
Bickings added: “Our teams are wonderful. They know we can’t do it without them. And that’s not even mentioning our Overnighters. Truly, we can not open without knowing who will stay up all night and provide safety and security for our guests. Overnighters are on duty from 10 PM until 6 AM when the breakfast team arrives. Many of our Overnighters have been faithful volunteers for 9 years. We can’t say enough about how much this means to the operation of the only cold weather shelter in Flagler County.”
The shelter was open for five nights at the end of January.
The homeless shelter was started by Carla Traister, who is still a member of the board of directors, and the former pastor at the Methodist church, Beth Gardner, who has since moved to Lakeland to be the pastor of a church there. Current board members also include Robert Ottley, Pamela Andrews and Stephanie Robinson.
The Shelter also offers transportation services and support to reunite individuals with their families. Volunteers pick up guests in Palm Coast near the Flagler County Public Library on Palm Coast Parkway, and arranges pick-ups when necessary in the Hammock or in Flagler Beach. Call the shelter at (386) 437-3258, ext. 105 to leave a message if you need a ride to the location at the First United Methodist Church in Bunnell, 205 N. Pine St.
The fund-raiser is over, but financial donations are always needed to offset the expenses to operate the shelter, which include rent, insurance, food, cots, linens and towels, laundry service, and necessary toiletries for individuals and families. The Sheltering Tree is a 501-c-3 charity, so your donations are tax-deductible. You cans see a list of current needs here.
The shelter operates without direct financial support from any of Flagler County’s cities or from county government.
To make a financial donation please send a check made out to the Sheltering Tree to The Sheltering Tree, PO Box 1219 Bunnell FL. 32110 or call 386.966.5824.
To donate clothing, tents, back packs, sleeping bags etc. please call 386.295.0611