Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless (MESH) helps feed and shelter homeless individuals throughout Montclair and surrounding areas.
For 12 years, an organization has been working tirelessly in Montclair on a problem residents think little about – homelessness. Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless, or MESH, was created in 2005 by Reverend Canon Wade Renn. Renn’s organization was born from the experience of seeing homeless men, women and children curled up in doorways, on park benches and on the street when the temperature outside was below freezing. He immediately began his mission that year by giving sleeping bags to each homeless individual.
His mission and organization grew, and by 2011, MESH officially became a non-profit organization. It was from here that MESH began their powerful, coordinated efforts to combat homelessness in Montclair. It was around this time that Dr. Gwen Parker-Ames, a former minister at St. Paul Baptist Church and accomplished educator and author, joined MESH as executive director. Parker-Ames saw an ad in a newspaper asking for churches to help with MESH’s efforts, and immediately jumped on board.
Parker-Ames says “We don’t just want to give them enough food and a place to stay for the night. We want to really make an impact. We started a garden so we could serve food straight from the garden, in an effort to make sure everyone was getting nutritional value from their meals.”
It is this level of thoughtfulness that has helped expand MESH as an organization and combatted homelessness as a whole. The more I spoke with Parker-Ames, the more I realized this was not a job for her. This was something she chose to dedicate her life to, and is something that she will be doing for a long time to come.
Along with providing meals and overnight respite for homeless individuals, Dr. Parker-Ames has also created a program in Bloomfield that shelters homeless college students when they cannot stay at their schools. Shocked by how little I knew of this problem that was so close to home, Parker-Ames explained “homelessness amongst college students is a huge problem in the whole country. Younger people can be homeless for a number of reasons, like being estranged from their family as an example. We want to create a sense of community for these students when they’re not in school.”
Sometimes, though, the amount of support MESH are willing to provide exceeds the funds they have. Parker-Ames says that previously, they held an overnight respite when the temperature outside fell below 25 degrees. This means that when it is cold enough, homeless people will be able to spend the night inside. While this helped countless homeless people, many that they interviewed said they did not know when the respite would be open, forcing them to sleep outside. In turn, MESH raised the overnight respite temperature to 32 degrees this winter, in an effort to help even more homeless individuals. This change doubled the days that the overnight respite was open.
Unfortunately, this depleted MESH’s funds dramatically, and they are now unable to hold events that they normally would. MESHing with Motown is an annual fundraising gala held by MESH. The event includes dancing, live music and silent raffles and auction, all in view of the beautiful New York City skyline. This year, the event had to be cancelled due to insufficient funds.
MESH is a big operation. Along with the organizational aspect, many people, including Parker-Ames, provide untold hours and work for the good of the community. MESH partners with over 20 churches from Montclair and Bloomfield, each of which provides their own volunteers to help in whatever way they can. MESH also provides security at their events, which ensures that those seeking refuge can always feel safe when in MESH’s hands.
Moving forward, Parker-Ames wants to improve the funding and availability of MESH’s resources for homeless individuals, but says the core goal of the organization will always stay the same. “We want to give hope. We want to give these people hope that they can live full, accomplished lives.” It is easy to understand in sentiment but harder to carry out through action.
Monetary donations are needed to help a non-profit organization such as MESH thrive. Parker-Ames assured me that getting donations is what they do, but nonetheless it is of utmost importance to support an organization that does so much good. As a longtime Montclair resident, homelessness in our town is something I never thought about. It seems worlds away to the green, tree-lined streets of Montclair. After speaking with Parker-Ames, it has become clear to me that Montclair does have a homelessness problem, and the Montclair community should come together for this cause and eradicate homelessness entirely from our town.
Fortunately, Montclair, Mayor Jackson and the Town Council have all been incredibly supportive thus far, according to Parker-Ames. “As we grew as an organization, our relationship with the town and it’s mayor grew.” Still, we can all do more. Parker-Ames says that volunteers are needed by MESH during holidays where churches aren’t open, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. You can find out more about volunteering for MESH here.
Monetary donations are encouraged, welcomed and appreciated. It is possible to donate to MESH through the web, or through the mail. Find out more about this process here.
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