“Never underestimate the power of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” says Charles Strobel from Nashville. His initiative Room In The Inn has supported people living on the streets of the capital of Tennessee for over thirty years.
He gives them roofs, meals and turns their lives around.
The man grew up witnessing his mother, Mary Catherine Strobel, always feeding, giving clothes and comforting neighboring homeless. It was normal for the family to shelter them overnights.
That left its mark on Charles’s entire life. Mary’s good deeds inspired him to open Room In The Inn, a comprehensive support and trust program serving those without a place to go. Started as a simple initiative to feed homeless 32 years ago, today it has over 7,000 volunteers and serves about 300 homeless each night.
It is still a simple project, but addressing a complex problem. Churches all over Nashville work together to shelter the homeless men, women and families. Some churches don’t have enough space to house the needy so they provide volunteers to prepare meals, clean and assist any way they can.
The initiative fulfills two important roles, the first of which is to provide basic human needs to those who call the streets of Nashville home and the second is to expose the issue of homelessness to the rest of the community.
Which basic human needs? A cot, friendly atmosphere plus two meals a day which sometimes include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the first treats Charles gave to the homeless in 1986. He met 12 men near the Holy Name Catholic Church in Nashville where he was a pastor. They started sleeping in his parking lot in their cars.
Later, those men stayed for some nights and then for the whole winter at Charles’parish. Strobel hesitated at first, “if this continues to grow, it may take over the rest of my life. And that of course is what happened.”
Finally, Strobel made up his mind. “If I can do it, everybody can,” he thought.
And The Room In The Inn was born.
Why Room In The Inn? When Mary gave birth to Jesus, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn“. Charles knew there has always been a room in the inn for all the needy.
They initially started to negotiate with local congregations. At first there were only four which committed to sheltering people, now there are more than 200 and 35 cities all over the USA joined the program.
Today’s Room In The Inn is much more than just temporary shelter and meals. They provide necessary medication, shower and personal care, access to hairdresser’s, laundry, telephone and internet. But that’s just essentials.
Much more important are drug and alcohol recovery, education coaching and employment weeks where people can find permanent job. For example, more than 30 people have landed jobs since last August. Overall, Room In The Inn has everything what helps the homeless get back on their feet and fully integrate into the society.
“When someone experiences hospitality and safety and a feeling of belonging, they experience sanctuary,” Charles says.
Featured image: Facebook