CLINTON — Victory Center Ministries' doors are always open to the homeless, the hungry and the hurting, but in December, volunteers go the extra mile to give people down on their luck the best possible Christmas.

"The primary focus is a shelter for the homeless," Executive Director Ray Gimenez said this week. Headquartered in an 1897 mansion on Ninth Avenue South, Victory Center Ministries has a 48-bed men's shelter, a 28-bed shelter for women and children and 28 transitional housing units at the former Clinton YMCA.

"Right now we have 12 women at the shelter, and 11 children. Across the street we have 27 men," Gimenez said. Twenty-five men are living in transitional housing.

"We're pretty full," Gimenez said. "Sometimes we're fuller than that."

The first four months of this year more than 40 men were using the men's shelter. Cold weather always increases the number of people in the facility.

"We were very crowded across the street," Gimenez said.

"Our principal is to rehabilitate the men, women and children so they will become an asset [to the community]," Gimenez said. The organization is faith-based and uses Bible teachings to help people regain control of their lives.

"In order for us to help these people who are hurting, we have to pay utilities," he added.

Heat, air conditioning, water and sewer expenses are paid with donations. The Victory Center receives no grants or federal funds. "We just depend on the private sector. Because we have increased our services, we need more support," Gimenez said, adding that paid staff is limited and "without the 40 volunteers, there's no way we could do it."

In addition to housing those who have nowhere else to go, the Victory Center gives out food boxes every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

"We're averaging 130-150 families every Saturday," he said. "They start lining up at 4 o'clock in the morning."

The center serves a free hot meal at 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day, Gimenez said. Anyone in the community can eat there at no charge.

"Everything we feed them is from donations," said Lyle Wilkins, donor development manager. Businesses and community members donate food, and some items are purchased for pennies from food banks.

During the center's Thanksgiving dinner, 181 volunteers served 940 meals, Gimenez said.

"People understand that there are people that are hurting. This city does pull together very well, especially during the holidays," he said.

When the Christmas season rolls around, the center not only provides food for families, it makes sure they have toys and gifts under the Christmas tree as well. Families sign up at Victory Center; businesses, churches and individuals donate gifts and money for the families.

Last year, the center gave gifts to more than 200 children in about 185 families, Gimenez said.

A favorite holiday tradition for Gimenez and Wilkins is surprising families who don't expect them. Gimenez and Wilkins accompany a volunteer in a Santa suit to deliver food, gifts for the children and money.

They surprise nine to 12 families a year, Gimenez said, including families in Camanche, Fulton, Illinois and DeWitt.

Gimenez said he sees more families in need now than when he started the center, not for lack of employment but for lack of salary. In today's economy, "you've got to have two working people," Gimenez said. "That's what we see. Not enough income coming in."

The Victory Center allows people to stay as long as they need to, provided they follow the rules, Gimenez said. Residents have chores, responsibilities and volunteer work to perform. Most people stay a couple of months, Gimenez said. By that time they've found employment or housing.

Fidel Henderson, the center's media executive, began living in transitional housing in 2016, he said. In 2017 he became part of the paid staff.

The center is currently looking for 1,000 people to commit to donate $30 a month for a year to fund the center and its programs, said Wilkins.

Anyone who needs food or shelter or who wishes to donate to the Victory Center should call 242-9016, stop by the center at 505 Ninth Ave. South or visit https://www.victorycenter.com/.


 


Other sources of free food in Clinton:

Monday

Information, Referral and Assistance Services, 415 S. Third St., 9 a.m. to noon; 1 to 3 p.m.

Tuesday

Information, Referral and Assistance Services, 415 S. Third St., 9 a.m. to noon; 1 to 3 p.m.

Salvation Army, 219 First Ave., 9 a.m. until food is gone.

Wednesday

Information, Referral and Assistance Services, 415 S. Third St., 9 a.m. to noon; 1 to 3 p.m.

Church of the Open Door, 816 13th Ave. North, 10 a.m. to noon.

Thursday

Information, Referral and Assistance Services, 415 S. Third St., 9 a.m. to noon; 1 to 3 p.m.

Clinton Public Library, 306 Eighth Ave. South, noon to 1 p.m.

Salvation Army Thrift Store, 2808 S. 25th St.

Friday

Information, Referral and Assistance Services, 415 S. Third St., 9 a.m. to noon; 1 to 3 p.m.

The Salvation Army, 219 First Ave., 9 a.m. until food is gone.

Saturday

Victory Center, 505 Ninth Ave. South, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Brown Bag 4 U distributed the fourth Saturday of each month. Contact Chuck Johnson at (563) 212-0351.

Sunday

Zion Lutheran Church, 439 Third Ave. South, 5:30 p.m. the second Sunday of each month.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 715 S. Third St., 5:30 p.m. the last Sunday of each month.

The Salvation Army, 219 First Ave., 5 p.m. every Sunday.

Food pantries

The Salvation Army food pantry is open by appointment. Call 242-4502.

Additional food is available through Christian Community Fellowship Church. Call (563) 249-1523.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.