The White Beard Project began as an Advent tradition at St Peter’s in 2011. It was something our family had decided to do the year before as an effort to bring joy to individuals that had overcome homelessness in permanent supportive housing in McCreesh Place. Entering housing, in some cases after many years of being on the streets, is surely a celebratory milestone, but the challenges that led to homelessness can linger forever. These individuals are frequently forgotten and alone during Christmas, with a majority of giving efforts focused on families and children in need. For many of us, the season can be one of deep despair and struggle. For someone that has faced one of the most difficult forms of human existence, that despair can be magnified. Our goal was to share the joy of Christmas and to support them on their journey, even if only in a small way. We paired the Christmas tradition of a filled stocking with everyday necessities, added a Christmas message, and delivered stockings to 60 residents on Christmas Eve in 2010. With the McCreesh building addition the next year, that number grew to 90.
It became obvious that we would need more hands for this effort. We asked the two faith communities that were the foundation of the first supportive housing community in Charlotte, St Peter’s Episcopal and St Peter’s Catholic, for help. In the early 1990s, the two churches started “St Peters’ Homes” to address the growing homeless population in Uptown. Both churches provided volunteer labor to refurbish homes that the city had acquired due to disrepair and then rented them to the group for one dollar per year. Initially, they welcomed homeless families and partnered with Catholic Social Services to provide case management and support, with the goal of moving them to self-sufficiency. At the same time, other efforts were forming to address the needs of a significantly growing population of homeless men. A Single Room Occupancy Team was formed to find housing solutions. The SRO Team’s efforts led to a merger with St Peters’ Homes and McCreesh Place’s building in 2005, housing 60 men.
Our Clergy and staff embraced the White Beard Project, as did our parish family when the Advent tree arrived with its ornaments requesting toothpaste, socks, and shampoo. St. Peter’s Youth Group adopted it as their annual service project, and every year have come together for a fun morning of fellowship stuffing stockings with the toiletry items collected. St Peter’s Catholic welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with us and honor their former priest, Fr. Gene McCreesh, who was the inspiration for making the vision of housing homeless men a reality. In the 10 years since and along with our partners, we have provided up to 145 stockings annually, not only to McCreesh Place but to men and women housed throughout the city.
As with everything in 2020, this Advent ministry had to be modified for safety. The ‘stockings’ became sealed bags that were collected already completed with items needed, as we could no longer gather together to stuff them, and we allowed for financial support in place of donated items. It was also impossible to deliver in person to the residents, but they were thrilled that we found an alternative amid so many cancellations. Despite the challenges, your generous support came through and enabled this tradition to continue. In addition, we acquired travel size items that were utilized to make 30 toiletry kits that were given to homeless neighbors.
In the words of Fr. Gene McCreesh, “May you all get in deep touch with gratitude. And may this allow you to catch the wind and soar aloft in the spirit of joy.”
We are incredibly grateful! Thank you for embracing the White Beard Project and spreading joy in this challenging year.