Margaret Simpson knows what it is like to be homeless. The 58-year-old Bradenton resident was homeless for about nine years before moving to Manatee County in 2007.
On Wednesday afternoon, Simpson was at the Bradenton Riverwalk, handing out brown-bag lunches and cold drinks to homeless and other individuals with Downtown Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that serves the homeless population and other individuals and families with needs.
“That’s what God gave me to do,” Simpson said. “That’s my calling to give back to the homeless.”
For the past two years, Simpson has been volunteering with Downtown Ministries, which she says allows her to show the homeless there is hope.
“It gives me a great pleasure to go out and talk with them and give them a hug,” she said.
The weekly Reach Walk is one of a number events Downtown Ministries does in Manatee County. Three years ago the nonprofit began with feeding the homeless and today it also organizes other community programs and provide individuals with items including clothing, shoes, hygiene item and refurbished bicycles.
“We are just doing what God called us to do,” said Christine Monroe-Loomes, co-founder of Downtown Ministries. “We fill immediate needs, but we also fill spiritual needs as well. God gives us this opportunity to work with them, love with them and provide for them.”
In January, Downtown Ministries moved out of the home of Christine Monroe-Loomes and her husband, Ian Loomes, and into a warehouse in Palmetto.
“We can run everything out of there,” Monroe-Loomes said. “It is amazing how people stepped up.”
The organization began as a group out of Bayside Community Church, which still gives a monthly stipend to the nonprofit, which is always looking for donations of clothing, tennis shoes, used adult bikes, hygiene items and nonperishable foods for the food bank, which started in January.
“It is really nothing less than a miracle,” Monroe-Loomes said of the nonprofit’s growth over the years.
More than 100 people volunteer with the nonprofit every week and many are homeless themselves, Monroe-Loomes said.
“These guys are massive blessings to us yet they have huge needs themselves,” she said. “They don’t worry about what they need. They worry about what other people need.”
Hattie Gardner is a volunteer and homeless. Gardner, who has been volunteering with the nonprofit for two years, said she does so “to help us that are out here on the streets.”
“If I can help them, then whenever I need the help I get the help back,” she said.
For more information about the nonprofit, go to Downtown-ministries.com.