In the fall of 2008, a new venture began in Lincoln. It was called The Barnabas Project. There were actually five project sites across Lincoln. They were started by the People’s City Mission and various agencies and churches. The idea was to help people experiencing poverty and, in some cases, homelessness to feel a sense of relief. Small free stores were established in the most impoverished areas of town. By giving away clothing, it was felt that, by taking the worry of purchasing clothing off guests’ plates, that money could be used to provide some relief in terms of paying other expenses like rent, utilities, transportation, etc.
Our site was located in the Belmont Shopping Center on the northwest corner of 11th & Cornhusker. It was one small storefront with enough room for receiving donations, displaying them for shopping and for some light refreshments. The project grew by leaps and bounds in a very short time. In 2011, our site was relocated across Cornhusker Highway to 931 Saunders Avenue. The building was bigger and provided much more space for the guests to gather in community.
At that same time, Sheridan Lutheran took the lead to keep the project going. The other four Barnabas Projects had ended. But due to the commitment of Sheridan Lutheran and some very faithful volunteers, ours continued. When the move took place, a name change also occurred. The name was changed to The Barnabas Community. It was felt that the word project indicated there would be an end to the need. They knew, in their hearts, that this was not the case. The Barnabas Community sits in an area that has been one of the most impoverished since the 1930s. A change in that status was not expected anytime soon.
After their move, the Barnabas Community continued to grow. And grow. Meals were served. Chapel services were started. The store and sorting areas grew. Partnerships were established with various agencies around town. In 2018, the community became its own 501(c)(3) with their own governing board of directors. This did not end the partnerships that had been established. The strong bond between Sheridan Lutheran and the Barnabas Community continues to this day. Much of the volunteer, in-kind and financial support comes from Sheridan Lutheran.
Here are a few examples of how the community has grown:
- Just six years ago, a chapel service began on Thursday evenings. At first, it was primarily for the volunteers who were there to help serve the evening meal. The attendance was generally about 6-7 people. Today, we have an average of 45 worshipers each week. We have eight people who provide messages for our chapel services. Several are Lutheran pastors, but we also have a seminary student, an American Baptist pastor and several laypeople who provide messages. Additionally, we have a Bible Study each week with approximately 7 participants, and it is growing.
- In 2018, it was a busy week if we served 125-140 meals between Thursday night dinner and Saturday morning breakfast. This has grown to include a sack lunch ministry, and each week, we are serving 600-650 meals.
- The number of guests we serve each week continues to grow. We are on track to hand out more that 145,000 items from our free store this year. While we have a number of returning guests each week, we also have new guests join us each week.
- Our staff has grown from .65 FTE to 2.8 FTE. New staff in the past 6 years include a store/donations manager, extended time for our community life coordinator, a meal ministry coordinator, a volunteer coordinator and an executive director (those positions are all within that 2.8 FTE). None of these positions is full time.
- Besides Sheridan Lutheran, we have developed partnerships with Lincoln Hygiene Network, CenterPointe/Touchstone, The Foodbank of Lincoln, Starbucks, the Lincoln Community Foundation and the Community Health Endowment. We make referrals to a number of agencies, and they, in turn, make referrals to us.
- We serve a much more diverse range of guests than we did at the beginning. Our scope reaches all zip codes in Lincoln and many beyond. While our primary area of service is still to those in Belmont or the North Bottoms, in 2022, we served folks whose last permanent addresses were from 90+ unique zip codes. We serve people of many faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities, races and socioeconomic classes.
- The sense of community has only grown stronger. People come to the Barnabas Community because they feel welcome there. Even though our scope and breadth of services has grown, people still feel welcome there. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell us how comfortable they are at Barnabas. One gentleman put it this way: I just love coming here and soaking up the peace. The guests know us, and we know them (to the extent they allow it). We have grown, but not to the point that we are impersonal or business-like.
We are proud of and humbled by our growth. We are so impressed with our volunteers and staff (both past and present). Without them, we would not be who we are. We would not have become the Barnabas Community we are today without them. We are two thankful for our donors. This takes a lot of human power, and we pray that we are continuing to be good stewards of the gifts we receive. We thank God for all the in-kind donations that have come in during the past 15 years. Those donations have gone to good homes.
It is by the grace of God that we have endured. We thank everyone who is or who has been a part of this growth. We also thank God for the opportunity to serve folks week after week and year after year. Blessings to you as we work through our 16th year of feeding and clothing all who come through our doors! Like Barnabas, may we all continue to be encouragers and consolers.