After the eviction of a homeless encampment Spet. 6, Northwest Arkansas, there is an increased need for religious charity this holiday season.
This winter is different than years past because of the amount of homeless people that the Salvation Army is serving, said Joshua Robinett, one of the Northwest Arkansas area commanders of the Salvation Army. Volunteers at shelters in Bentonville and Fayetteville have to serve more meals because of the increase in the number of people.
Close to 80 homeless people were evicted from a UA property south of 19th Street where they were camping and were forced to find a new place to live, according to a previous article published in The Arkansas Traveler Sept. 6. Salvation Army officials opened two emergency cold weather shelters early to help house the people who were living on that property.
Bobby Maynard, 60, who has spent nearly 30 years of his life homeless, wants a place to live above all else, he said.
“I mean, you know, I stay at the Salvation Army at night, but it gets crazy in there,” Maynard said. “Every time they open that darn door, you’re freezing your butt off. It’s getting right now to where there’s 40, 45, 50 men in there. It’s not big enough.”
During the holiday season, Maynard can only look forward to meals provided by different religious organizations and homeless shelters in Fayetteville because he has no one with whom to celebrate the holiday season, he said.
People tend to donate and volunteer more during the cold, winter months, said Daniel Robertson, site coordinator at 7hills Homeless Center. The shelter needs people to donate supplies for the winter, including coats, blankets and sleeping bags.
“I think some of that is because the weather is changing, you know, so people realize how cold it is,” Robertson said. “We do get a lot more calls for volunteers that want to come serve Thanksgiving lunch or Christmas dinner and things like that, which is great. I wish we had that same enthusiasm throughout the entire year.”
UA sororities and fraternities, Muslims 4 Community and several churches like Genesis Church are some of the groups that help at 7hills, Robertson said.
“It’s just kind of a mixed bag,” Robertson said. “It’s the whole community working together.”
Muslims 4 Community is a charitable group from the Islamic Center for Northwest Arkansas. Center officials offer a place for spiritual practices, said Abdellah Essalki, the imam, or leader, of the center.
Robertson thinks people at 7hills are excited when Muslims 4 Community members come to the center, he said. The group hands out sack lunches on Fridays to help carry people through the weekend.
“Everybody’s been super respectful, and they’re a welcome sight,” Robertson said. “They pull in, you know, and people start lining up.”
Maynard likes when Muslims 4 Community members come to the center, he said.
“I like them. They’re nice people,” Maynard said. “I like their sandwiches too, just if they would put it on regular bread (rather than buns) because I’ve got no lower teeth and it’s hard for me to eat that.”
The group also serves sack lunches at the Salvation Army center in Fayetteville, even though their help is not related to the holiday season. Christmas is the busiest time of the year for the Salvation Army, said Joshua Robinett, one of the Northwest Arkansas Area Commanders of the Salvation Army.
“This time of year is a time that we are reminded about all the things we're thankful for, and we're reminded to give and we're reminded to serve,” Robinett said. “So as those reminders come up, really within the American culture, the opportunity is there (to serve). There's an increase of folks that are volunteering.”
Ringing the Salvation Army bells, a volunteer activity that starts in November to raise money, is the biggest source of money for the organization, Robinett said.
“Without that, let me tell you, there’s no way we’d be able to
step up to the plate the way we did this year when some of the homeless encampments cleared out,” Robinett said. “We just wouldn’t have the resources to do it.”
Christmas is a major holiday for Christians, but Maynard does not celebrate the occasion. He sometimes attends services, but mainly goes to different charities for holiday meals, he said.
Maynard, a Christian, wishes he could celebrate Christmas, but none of his family members are alive to be with him. Maynard is the only one left after multiple family members, like his father, died of cancer. Other family members died in accidents, including a drunk driving incident that killed his cousin and a shooting that killed his nephew, he said.
“All you can do is during that time of year is reminisce the good times you had, you know, because you can’t bring them back,” Maynard said.
The Muslims 4 Community group rotates between multiple locations across Northwest Arkansas and partners with other organizations to provide clothing and food, Essalki said. Charitable giving is one of the pillars of Islam.
There are five pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, fasting, obligatory charity and pilgrimage.
“Our members in the community here love to volunteer,” Essalki said. “The charity goes to help people, that’s including poor and unfortunate people in hard times. All sort of good that we can give, we have to.”
Temple Shalom of Northwest Arkansas has no activities to help the homeless at the moment, but officials are discussing working with Muslims 4 Community to help shelters, said Stanley Rest, president of the temple, in an email.
During Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and refers to the annual observance of fasting and prayer, the temple collects food, personal items and clothing to donate to the Peace at Home Family Shelter, Rest said.
Helping the needy is a command in the Torah, both materially and spiritually. This includes donating money and food and giving in a way that preserves a homeless person’s dignity, according to Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s speech, “Judaism’s Moral Imperative to End Poverty.”
Charitable giving is also a tenant of the Christian faith, which Jesus exemplified when he gave his own life, Robinett said.
“We were created as social beings dependent on so many things, including our fellow man. I think we were designed to give and to receive,” Robinett said. “The mission statement of the Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”
Maynard does not think religious groups or charitable organizations have donated as much for winter this year, he said.
“Usually they give long-johns, or toboggans, or some of them give coveralls and things like that, but a lot of them haven’t done it this year yet,” Maynard said.
Despite his situation and his past, Maynard continues to practice Christianity. He does not think it makes sense when a person stops believing after a tragedy happens, he said.
“It’s part of life. You can’t change it,” Maynard said. “They say, ‘Oh well, I don’t like Christianity. I don’t believe in Jesus or God.’ That ain’t going to change s---. That’s not going to bring them back.”