By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
6:28 PM EST, January 12, 2013
When she still was in middle school, Ashley Jeter went with a group of girls from her church to serve at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter.
By the time she left, she had decided she was going to open a homeless shelter of her own. In the words of her mother, Sandy Jeter, 49, of Smithsburg, “She was hooked.”
“As a parent, you don’t want to discourage your kids, but you need to make them realize that you can’t just do something like that,” Sandy Jeter said.
Still, her daughter — who now is 20 and a sociology student at Salisbury University — persevered. While Ashley Jeter never put to rest her ideal goal, over the next couple of years, she conceded that maybe she could start smaller.
By her senior year, she devised a written plan to serve an outreach meal for homeless and low-income individuals and presented it to her pastor. He agreed that she could head up a meal the following month.
In June 2010, volunteers from church provided and cooked the food and 15 people came to eat.
That initial gathering flourished into a monthly event known as Tides of Love outreach dinners that have been attended by as many as 400 people.
On Saturday afternoon, more than 200 people lined up at the doors of Lifehouse Ministry Center in Hagerstown, eager for a meal as well as free clothing, health and beauty items and groceries to go.
“We have people who were at the first meal who still come and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? How’s your boyfriend?’” Ashley Jeter said.
Tides of Love, which was named in part for Jeter’s love of the beach, is run as a ministry of Lifehouse Church East.
Jeter said she was “shocked” as a young girl to realize that there were people in Hagerstown who “didn’t have a home to go to.” She noted that 25 percent of people in Washington County live below the poverty line and said “there is a real need.”
Even as she headed off to college, with the support of family and volunteers, Jeter continued to develop the Tides of Love ministry. About four months into the project, she began to offer donated gently used clothing to attendees. What began as one table of clothing has grown to a long line of tables, a rack of coats and rows of shoes in all sizes.
“Some people leave with garbage bags full of clothes. Some leave with nothing. They take what they need,” she said.
She also collected shampoos and soaps that volunteers had accumulated from hotel travel, and began to purchase basic toiletries to offer through the ministry. A children’s activity table allows kids to play while parents “shop” the resource tables.
“It’s warm here. They can stay as long as they want, really,” Jeter said. “I don’t want kids to be bored.”
A van picks up people whom Jeter refers to as dinner “guests” from REACH and the Hagerstown Rescue Mission. In September, Tides of Love began to partner with the Maryland Food Bank to provide bagged groceries as well as expanded health and beauty items during the dinner events.
Terra Redman, 25, of Knoxville, Md., said she has attended the dinner as a guest for four or five months along with her son, Miguel Redman, 1. Redman said she works full time, but finds it tough to make ends meet.
“It’s very hard. A friend of mine told me to come for the clothes and stuff,” she said. “Everyone is very nice. If you ask, they try to help as much as they can.”
Karen Gladfelter, 53, of Maugansville, volunteered Saturday in the children’s area.
“We try to make people feel welcome, ‘Please come in,’” she said. “We try to take what we have and use it as a way of sharing God’s love for them through us.”
Cherie Smith, 54, of Hagerstown, said working with food is her forte and her way of responding to God’s command to “give unto others.”
“Everyone is down and out at some point in their life,” she said. “(This ministry) gives them a break from the drudgery of what their life can be on the street.”
Bryn Inserra, 8, of Greencastle, Pa., worked alongside her mother, Jenn Crawford, 36.
“Today, we are here to serve others,” Bryn said. “The great part of it is we are helping others and doing what’s right and making sure they are OK.”
Jeter hopes Tides of Love eventually will obtain nonprofit status, and she still aspires to open a shelter. A more immediate goal is acquiring a building, she said. Now, the group stores all of its supplies on six shelves in the ministry center’s basement.
“It’s kind of like a game of Tetris making everything fit when we are done,” she said.
People interested in volunteering or donating to Tides of Love may send an email to Ashley Jeter at email@example.com.
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