GREEN COVE SPRINGS – John Sanders has a vision for helping homeless people and he plans to open the Vineyard, a shelter that will provide housing, job training and life skills – everything needed to be self-sufficient.
Sanders, pastor and founder of True Vine Fellowship church, said the city has a serious homelessness problem. They’re living in the woods, under bridges and behind stores, he said.
“Just because you don’t see homeless people doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Sanders said.
According to Changing Homelessness Chief Executive Officer Dawn Gilman, a January survey of the homeless population found 84 homeless people in Clay County. However, the organization’s annual survey is only a snapshot of one point in time, she said, and it is difficult to get an accurate count.
Sanders said he has a group of houses in mind for the project. The next step is raising the funds to purchase them. The goal, he said, is to own the property by January 1.
So far, Sanders said he has held car washes to raise money for the project, and the church is hosting a benefit concert June 24. The Concert in the Cove will be held at the Shiloh Baptist Church at 1055 County Rd. 226 and will feature gospel music, hip hop and rap. Among the local performers will be Ashton Taylor, one of four finalists of WJXT Channel 4’s Oh Say Can You Sing contest. Hungry Howie’s is sponsoring the event.
Currently, Green Cove Springs does not have a homeless shelter. There are organizations that may help for a day or two, Sanders said, but many people need long-term assistance.
“This is what I believe, that we should help everybody, anybody that we can, no matter who they are,” Sanders said. “If they’re in need, that’s what the church is supposed to do.”
His vision for the Vineyard includes job training and resume help. He hopes to help people prepare for interviews and form relationships with local businesses for job placement.
Sanders said he created a resource team to build connections and move the project forward. They are not members of the church, he said, but they see the vision and want to be a part of it.
Most people he has spoken with are excited about the project, Sanders said, and he has not heard any negative response – yet.
He said another pastor tried to open a shelter in the city years ago and the project fell apart over zoning issues. He hopes buying several houses in one area, instead of building something new, will alleviate that hurdle.
Sanders said this work is important because he wants to help people’s spirits.
“I think before you can reach their soul, you have to meet their needs,” he said. “It’s hard for me to talk to you about Jesus if you’re hungry. You’re not gonna’ hear me. I have to feed you first.”
However, he said, the Vineyard is not about bringing more people to his church, and no one is obligated to join.
Sanders said his first initiative to aid those in need was a clothes closet he set up since starting True Vine Fellowship in 2014. The True-ly Di-Vine Treasures Clothes Closet is located at Celebration Church, which allows him to use the front space of the building at 806 Oak St. He said volunteers work hard to keep the space maintained and presentable. He knows people may be feeling bad for coming there, he said, and he wants to make them feel comfortable.
“God said that we should love everybody,” Sanders said, “Love is action. You gotta’ do something. I can say I love you all day long. If I don’t ever do anything for you, it’s just words.”
“If we say we’re Christian, that means we should show some love. We should be out helping people in need.”
To reach Pastor John Sanders, call (904) 305-4641.