TIU-Florida Staff Writer
It’s about community. It’s about housing. It’s about HOPE. It’s about what people like Eddie Copeland are doing in the South Florida community.
Eddie and his wife Sarah recently moved to South Florida so that Eddie could become a full-time graduate student at Trinity International University – Florida, as well as a full-time employee at HOPE South Florida (formerly The Shepherd’s Way). Eddie became the program manager of HSF’s emergency overflow shelter program; ironically called “Faith-In-Action,” as Eddie had a strong desire to put the gospel into practice. He says of his efforts, “All I knew is that I wanted to work with churches to see faith put into action in service to ‘the least of these.’ I had no idea that would mean working with homeless families.” From this point of interest and concern, God expanded Eddie’s passion.
God helped Eddie to understand his own life as one that had been privileged and blessed abundantly. Eddie’s work among South Florida’s homeless population, and his education at TIU-Florida, made it possible for him to begin seeing his life differently. During his formative years, Eddie’s ministry efforts tended to be more like service projects—good deeds checked off of a good Christian’s to-do list. Now, Eddie explains, “As I matured in my faith I realized that the grace of the gospel was not just the means of my salvation, but the motivation to love and serve others the way the Lord has loved and served me through the Cross— through Jesus.” Through this love and service Christians demonstrate to the watching world the fullness of Christ’s kingdom to that is coming.
Eddie’s work at HOPE South Florida has been particularly rewarding. With a main office located in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the organization provides housing and support services to homeless individuals and families. HOPE South Florida is the first stop for over 95% of homeless families who receive shelter in our community. The organization is a Christian-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, operating since 1995, that has provided emergency shelter, housing assistance, and support services to thousands of homeless families and individuals. HOPE South Florida utilizes scattered site housing, operates a family shelter in Fort Lauderdale, and works with 53 church partners.
One of Eddie’s favorite HOPE South Florida efforts is The Little Christmas House—an initiative that encourages children, families, schools and businesses to get involved in changing the lives of homeless families in South Florida. Eddie’s heart for these families is evident when he says, “With over 200 families on the waiting list for shelter in Broward County, I can only hope that The Little Christmas House project will help raise awareness and provide a practical, tangible solution to our community’s homeless family crisis.” The Little Christmas House initiative brings together faith, hope and practice. It brings together both the organization’s vision of “hope for the hopeless and homes for the homeless,” and its mission of “providing hope for the homeless and hurting through services and partnerships with the Christian community.”
Now in its third year, The Little Christmas House—a small, charming little cardboard house with an opening for cash and coins—has raised over $50,000 for HOPE South Florida’s emergency shelter and crisis housing programs. Churches, individuals, schools and businesses around South Florida commit to supporting the project and displaying the collection boxes each Christmas season when people tend to focus more on generosity and helping others. “While most of us are checking people off our shopping lists,” Eddie says, “hundreds of children find themselves homeless; the latest X-box game is the furthest thing from their minds.” Having a safe, permanent home shouldn’t have to be a child’s primary Christmas dream, but too often it is.
The Little Christmas House project is a simple and easy way to make that dream a reality, because the number one way to decrease homelessness is to increase the amount of crisis housing available in the community. Eddie’s passion is evident when he says, “You never forget the face of a family when you tell them that they no longer have to sleep in their car or on the street. It’s something that will stick with you forever. For a moment, it’s the hope of heaven realized here on earth.” Sharing in the provision of that hope is so easy. Schools, businesses, churches, youth groups— anyone who has spare change hiding in their couch cushions—can help! One hundred percent of the money raised by HOPE South Florida through this project goes directly into creating and sustaining crisis housing and shelter for homeless children and families.
Yet there is more that needs to be done in the years to come. The vision for The Little Christmas House project over the next 10 years would obviously be for more and more churches, schools, businesses and individuals to impact the community by displaying a Little Christmas House, filling it up, and dropping it off at the HOPE South Florida office. However, Eddie’s vision is greater. He says, “I’d love for the project to underwrite the entire budget of our emergency shelter program, Faith-In-Action. There would be something special about knowing that every full gas tank, paid FPL bill, pillow case and toothbrush provided to homeless families in South Florida came through the hearts of people who decided to turn their spare change into housing.” God’s heart for the homeless is a blessing for those who give generously and those who receive shelter as a result. Over 200 families are served annually through HOPE South Florida’s Little Christmas House efforts, but it would all be impossible without the dedication of faithful people who give and serve.
Eddie, and the staff of HOPE South Florida, are encouraged by the ways in which their vision for the future is becoming evident in the present. “After years of planning, and much prayer,” Eddie shares with palpable joy, “Holy Cross Hospital has partnered with HOPE South Florida to open up a wellness center for the individuals, children, and families served through our programs. This wellness center will provide health screenings and immunizations, as well as a teaching kitchen to educate our families on how to cook sensibly while going through a housing transition.” Furthermore, one of HOPE South Florida’s partners, Rio Vista Community Church, has just purchased a four unit apartment complex called, “The Rio House.” The complex provides four additional units for HSF’s emergency shelter, “The Shepherds Way.”
Two years ago, Eddie and his wife, Sara, introduced The Little Christmas House to the Trinity International University-Florida campus. The University is excited to participate again this year. The project kicks off right after Thanksgiving and runs through the end of December. Eddie, Sara, and the staff at TIU-Florida will be among the first to say how easy it is to get involved. Eddie says, “All you need to do is get a house, fill it up, and drop it off; it’s that simple. All we need to know is how many houses and brochures you’d like. The rest is up to you as you go hunting through your drawers and couch cushions for change!”
More information about The Little Christmas House can be found at thelittlechristmashouse.org and about HOPE South Florida at hopesouthflorida.org.