Ten Cedar Rapids-area churches and a synagogue have launched a program designed to provide hospitality — including warm beds, warm meals and warm smiles — to a handful of homeless families in Linn County.

Five of the 10 churches are Presbyterian. Participating Presbyterian churches are Christ Church Presbyterian, Cedar Rapids; First Presbyterian Church, Marion; Echo Hill Presbyterian Church, Cedar Rapids; Westminster Presbyterian Church, Cedar Rapids; and First Presbyterian Church, Cedar Rapids.

“As a denomination, we are well represented,” said the Rev. Tim Dyck, pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids. “I think it’s been a good thing for our congregation, dealing with people in a different place than we are — particularly at Christmas time, when we think of Jesus not having a place to lay his head, either.”

The program is called Family Promise of Linn County. Each church agrees to house two or three selected families for a week, and provide breakfast and supper and leftovers for the families to take their lunch with them during the day, which they spend in a day center.

Each church takes a turn every three months or so.

Christ Church members prepared three Sunday school rooms to host the families, placing welcome mats in front of each door, furnishing each with a dresser, night stand and air mattresses, and hanging pictures to make the rooms welcoming. 

Tim and Sherri Dohrmann stayed three nights at Christ Church last week with two families the church was housing, feeding and spending time with.

“We have a gym where the kids can run before mom puts them down” for the night, Tim Dohrmann said. “We’ve helped them with homework and showed them some Veggie Tales DVDs.”

“The families are just real neat, very nice people,” he added. “They have money problems right now, so they can’t afford to be living in an apartment.”

Families must sign a contract agreeing to turn over half their income during their stay in the Family Promise program. During the day, with children in school, parents have time for a job search or further their education.

“These are families who are working hard to get back on their feet after circumstances have made them homeless,” Dohrmann said, adding that 83 percent of families who have benefited from similar programs have moved into housing once they complete Family Promise.

“Once this has been accomplished, the host congregations hold a graduation party to celebrate their success,” he said. “We thank the Lord for providing us with this wonderful mission.”

The session at First Presbyterian Church in Marion voted to become a host church a year ago. The church has showers already and hopes to install a washer and dryer to aid the families.

“This is a wonderful way for people of all ages, children to older adult, to be externally serving,” said the Rev. Beth Hilkerbaumer, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Marion. “We are looking forward to this new opportunity to reach out to our community. This is all about hospitality, hospitality, hospitality.”

Mike Ferguson is a member of the United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for the “Muscatine Journal,” the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start. He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service. This story originally ran in “Out and About,” the newsletter of the Presbytery of East Iowa.