For the third year in a row, Hot Springs' homeless population had the opportunity to celebrate the holiday season at Lakeview Assembly Church's annual Christmas party.
Attendees were serenaded by live music, provided with clothing and supplies, and were fed a Christmas lunch.
Trish Nooner, director of Full Circle Missions Outreach Ministry, and Emily Stevenson, whose husband, Matt, is the church's pastor, spoke to The Sentinel-Record prior to the party to explain the need for the yearly event.
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"Because they are somebody's child. Something's happened in their life, and they've lost their way, but we have a lot of success stories. Maybe they weren't loved when they were a kid. Maybe they just came from a bad family environment and they just need somebody to show them that we just see you and we know you can do it and encourage them and let them know that you can do this," Nooner said.
"We believe the Lord loves the least and the great. They're all great to him, so they are great to us, so we treat them like we would anyone else," Stevenson said.
"They are important. Their lives are important to us," Stevenson said.
"They need to know that they're valuable," Nooner added.
"We hope to be a light. We hope to develop relationships so we can help them with whatever their needs are," Nooner said. "If they're ready to come off the streets and get mental health help or whether it be drug addiction, or whatever it is, we try to develop a relationship with them so we can help them with those needs."
"Connecting them with resources and immediate needs today. We'll get them just some practical things that they will need for the winter and most of all, point them towards Jesus," Stevenson said.
Nooner said they "have resource sheets, so anything that they need, we can point them in the right direction." In addition to helping with substance abuse issues and mental health issues, Nooner said they can also help people find "an organization that will help them get their identification or their birth certificate."
"A lot of people can't even get a job if they don't have an identification, so it's important to always know where they can go and get that help," Nooner said, noting they can also help people get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"We can lead them in the right direction so they can know when the dates are to go get their COVID shots," she said.
The Christmas meal included turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, rolls and cranberry sauce. Stevenson said this was a homemade Christmas meal.
Items that were provided to the homeless in attendance included a wrapped present. "It's really important to me to give a wrapped present because some of our guys will tell you they've never had one, or they haven't had one since they were a child," Nooner said.
Other items included backpacks, flashlights, body and hand warmers, socks, hats and gloves.
"Just everything that's necessary for them to survive through the winter," Nooner said, noting the items were collected via both fundraising and from donations.
"We have a very giving city. Our city is awesome and there's a lot of people out there, even businesses, that want to be a blessing to others," Nooner said.
Both Stevenson and Nooner said they intend to hold another Christmas party for the homeless in 2022.