Support for those who are homeless in the community

by | Apr 7, 2022 | Other News

When driving up to Congregation Beth El, a group of homeless people are frequently seen across the street at New Life Church waiting to get in to have a meal. Riding down Colonial Avenue, an old woman might be seen pushing a grocery cart with all her belongings in it, or homeless folks on street corners or on the steps of neighborhood churches seeking shelter or money for food, might also be seen.

The pandemic has hit the homeless population in a devastating way. In previous years, Beth El joined forces with other churches and synagogues in housing the homeless for one week each year through the NEST program.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Beth El members worked with Mercy Chefs to provide hot meals daily for 20 folks living in tents on 19th Street. The city eventually evicted these people, and most moved to a tent city run at the Greyhound Bus Station. Beth El did a major drive collecting food, clothes, and toiletries for those living in the Greyhound Shelter. In the fall, Norfolk purchased a motel at 1050 Tidewater Drive where they are able to house 100 residents. During inclement weather, an additional 60 people come to the shelter to sleep on the floor and receive meals.

Unfortunately, the shelter does not have adequate storage space for the type of items Beth El members donated in the past; however, the residents are still in dire need of food. For those who want to contribute, send a check to the Urban Renewal Center, First Presbyterian Church, 820 Colonial Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23507. Specify on the check that the contribution is for food for the Norfolk Shelter.

Providing additional help for those in need, there is a Norfolk Homeless Task Force comprised of members from local churches and synagogues, as well as of representatives from Urban Renewal Center, Ghent Area Ministries (GAM), the Norfolk Community Services Board, and the Norfolk Homeless Shelter. Those in need can go to area sites daily to receive breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Once a month, Ohef Sholom Temple opens its doors to provide a hot lunch, as well as clothing and toiletries. In addition, the synagogue prepares dinner once a month for the 100 residents at the Norfolk Shelter. To learn about joining the Ohef Sholom team, contact Dorianne Villani at

As a participant in the Norfolk Homeless Task Force, Beth El has done its part contributing funds from its Homeless Fund when the need arises. Recently, there was a gang-related shooting during which a mother and her daughter were caught in the crossfire and the mother was wounded. The single parent mother, who has recovered, has four children in The Park Place School. Beth El sent a contribution to the school’s discretionary fund to help this family.

One member group of the Task Force is the Ghent Area Ministry, whose mission is to help people find a home or keep them in their home. As a supporting member of GAM, Beth El is among 20 area churches helping address the economic, social, and human needs of people in transition. Located at 1301 Colonial Avenue, GAM opens its doors Monday–Friday with its director and volunteers on site providing services that include distributing clothing, providing financial assistance for prescriptions, as well as access to dental and vision services, helping citizens who have transportation needs with HRT for work and health services, and assistance with utility and rent payments, etc. Computers are on site and a supervisor is available to lend support to clients who need housing or jobs. When a person in need knocks on the door at Beth El, the staff refers them to GAM for support. To contribute to GAM, send a check to Ghent Area Ministry, 1301 Colonial Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23507.

Congregation Beth El, like other congregations such as Ohef Sholom, is committed to doing tzedakah. In Hebrew, the word means righteousness or justice, and it is an ethical obligation that the Torah mandates, also known as a mitzvah or law. Its intention is to show the Jewish people’s determination to improve the world. Jewish sages taught that every Jew has something to contribute, whether it is money, time, or attention. With this in mind, it is important to continue to help those in need in the community.

Patti Wainger is a member of Congregation Beth El and of The Norfolk Homeless Task Force.

Patti Wainger