Church provides a Room in the Inn

by Josh Carpenter

Volunteers at New Covenant United Methodist Church prepare bag lunches for the Room in the Inn program. (Courtesy of Janet Hinson)

MOUNT HOLLY – Janet Hinson never imagined how close one ministry could bring a group of people together. That was until her church started the Room in the Inn program three years ago.

Hinson, the choir director at New Covenant United Methodist Church, 14541 Lucia-Riverbend Hwy., also serves as the program’s coordinator.

The Urban Ministry Center, in Charlotte, started the Room in the Inn program in 1996. Colleges and congregations around the Charlotte area open their facilities during the winter months to provide shelter and food for homeless people for one night, then return the guests to uptown Charlotte the following morning.

“This is our third year doing it,” Hinson said. “We were going to build a family life center and we wanted it to be a place where we could have ministries that helped people. We wanted a gym and shower facilities in it with the thought that we could help people that are homeless in the winter.”

New Covenant participates in the program the second and third weekend of December, January, February and March. The church provides a Friday-night meal, Saturday-morning breakfast and a bag lunch for the day on Saturday.

In its first year of participation in the program, New Covenant would invite just eight guests. They’re now up to 16 each night and provide a warm place to sleep, games of basketball, cornhole, DVD movies and devotionals. Guests can also get a hot shower.

On most nights, between 25 and 30 church volunteers come in, set up sleeping quarters and prepare the meals. Local Girl Scout troops often put together Saturday’s bag lunch, or a goody bag, which includes things like shampoo, lotion, hats and gloves.

Prior to New Covenant’s first Room in the Inn night, held Dec. 9-10, interest level at the church was at an all-time high.

“When I got up to speak about it and said, ‘It’s time to talk about Room in the Inn,’ the whole congregation just got so excited,” Hinson said. “It just about made me cry because this church is just so behind this project. I think that on some level, almost everybody in our congregation is involved. Whether they’re hands-on, donate money or pray for this program.”

Hinson said the church is always open to outside volunteer help, and will also accept sample-sized lotions, shampoos and other small items for the goody bags.

The church’s next Room in the Inn night takes place Jan. 15.

“After we had our Room in the Inn season last year, we had a wind-up dinner with everybody who had helped,” Hinson said. “The stories that people told were absolutely heartwarming about how they had interacted with these people. I had so many people tell me that working with this program has absolutely changed their lives, that they would never be the same. I’m blown away by the generosity of this congregation.”

For more information or to help volunteer with Room in the Inn, call the church at 704-827-4468 or Hinson at 704-661-2576.

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