Homeless in Apopka

Special to The Apopka Voice
By Judy Henderson/Renewal Church
Traumatic.
That’s how Apopka resident Kelly Eichner described the experience of having her husband Joab suffer a double aneurysm in 2017. It was devastating for her and her family, but it also made her take stock of life and the people around her in this community.
Joab survived and began the road to recovery, and out of gratitude, Kelly felt a calling to give to others who were less fortunate and began to help the homeless of Apopka in December of 2018.
She began by feeding the homeless a meal with a friend, under the Main Street bridge in Apopka. Through social media, others heard about her efforts and joined in her passion to reach out to homeless people with a unique approach.
The First United Methodist Church of Apopka opened their doors to the outreach in January of 2019, and Kelly partnered with Renewal Church to collect food and prepare a monthly meal. Each month, more citizens from the community have joined the outreach, building relationships with people who for many unfortunate reasons have ended up living in a tent or car.

The outreach began small but has grown to include Goodwill job counseling, immunizations, free haircuts, a bi-monthly shower trailer, clothing, and other tools to help give them the opportunity to get off the street.

(Right to left): Kelly Eichner, Marian Sabiston, and Betty Jankun – Apopka residents – in the kitchen at FUMC during the outreach
During the first six months of homeless outreach in Apopka, Kelly has been able to help four people and two children overcome homelessness and find a place to live. She has done so by treating them with dignity and respect, listening to their stories and needs.
Sometimes, it’s a simple fix, such as helping to track down family or friends, but other times it’s a long road that requires loving them back to life again after a traumatic experience.
One of her success stories includes a 16-year-old girl with a baby, who is now off the street, in school getting her high school diploma, and with assistance for daycare while working full-time.
Kelly is an advocate for building relationships with the homeless in order to find out what their true individual needs are. She received a 3 am call from a homeless person (many have her phone number), concerning the safety of the 16-year-old girl on the street. As she came to the rescue in her pajamas, Kelly learned that someone had taken her baby. She was able to help the teenage mother get her baby back and contacted family friends who took in the mother and infant in order for them to begin to get their life back together.
Three other adults and a child have similar stories of Kelly helping them to find a place to live, after giving them food and resources.
The homeless outreach continues to grow, and it is relationship-based, treating people with dignity and respect as they come in for their free meal. Volunteers sit down and have conversations over dinner, helping them to feel human again. Currently, 47-50 people receive large bags of food each month, including hygiene items, that help in their road to recovery.
Kelly doesn’t know what the future holds but continues to look for opportunities to help others. The outreach has grown so much that she has asked the board of Renewal Church to partner with her so that monetary gifts can be accepted, and an even greater impact can be made in the fight against homelessness in Apopka.
Contributions can be made to the “Homeless” fund at renewalchurch.com and community members are encouraged to serve at the monthly outreach, on the second Tuesday of each month.
Editor’s Note: Homeless in Apopka is an occasional series about the struggle of the homeless in Apopka.

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