Open Door Service fills bellies and hearts

Anna-Kay Reeves

Saturdays are for service at University United Methodist Church, where volunteers brave predawn wake up calls to prepare for Open Door.

Each Saturday at 6:50 a.m., Open Door co-coordinators Wanda and C.L. Evans start the first shift of Open Door Service. Regardless of weather or time of the year, Open Door provides access to a clothing closet, free meal and community for the homeless population in Austin.

“We’ve been here on Christmas. We’ve been here on New Year’s Day,” C.L. Evans said. “Holidays don’t change the need for these people to eat. Since they still need us, we’re still here.”

For the husband and wife team, serving with Open Door enriches life immensely.

“Being able to be here for these people gives us so much joy,” Wanda Evans said. “If we ever have to miss being here, there’s a hole. Doing what we can to help is something incredibly fulfilling.”

Open Door uses the church’s cafeteria to lay out a buffet of food items freshly prepared for those in need, Wanda Evans said. Wheatsville Co-op often contributes fruits and vegetables, providing variety and vitamins to the menu of simple and filling food items such as quesadillas and oatmeal.

To put together the meal and the clothing closet where guests can supplement their wardrobe, Open Door relies on volunteers such as kitchen leader Samantha Champion.

“I started volunteering with Open Door about 10 years ago when I was a freshman in college,” Champion said. “I loved how welcoming it was and still is. It’s not only welcoming for the guests we serve but for volunteers as well. I feel appreciation from every direction.”

Champion said Open Door gives her the opportunity to take weekend time that’s often wasted and use it for impactful service.

“Seeing people affected by homelessness up close is a great way to develop empathy, too,” Champion said. “I see them come in and talk to friends, I see them bringing in their children and it helps give me perspective.”

The impact of this community went further than a meal and hot coffee for James Lykins, who currently volunteers as a cleanup leader, although he was once one of the homeless guests coming in for a meal.

“There’s more to this than just the food,” Lykins said. “This is a place people come regularly. They talk over coffee and make friends. That’s important because if someone goes missing, there are people to know to look for them.”

For Lykins, connections such as these are another aspect of what makes Open Door an important service. He said he was able to find housing through connections made at Open Door.

“There are people here looking to do more than just keep you from going hungry,” Lykins said. “There are some ladies who help people replace their ID cards, which is important because you can’t do much at all without an ID. For me, people were able to tell me about a housing program I could get into.”

Open Door was never meant to be permanent, Wanda Evans said. It started as a temporary service project leading up to Easter in 1992.

“But Easter came and went, and the need was still there,” Wanda Evans said. “So we’re here to serve.”