The Vineyard Community Church is technically closed – but its pastor and many of its members are continuing their charitable mission at the former church’s 154 N. DePeyster St. home.
The Rev. Scott Budzar said that since 2006, the nondenominational Christian church has evolved into a magnet for the area’s needy. Vineyard’s charitable work grew to the point that the non-profit Anonymous Relief Mission was founded.
On Friday mornings, Budzar said, up to 50 people line up outside the building to get some of the 300 to 400 pounds of meat given away each week. More than 300,000 loaves of free bread have been distributed over the last four years. Complete households have been set up for hundreds of homeless families and individuals transitioning into rental units.
“As a church community we’ve done a lot of outreach and we’ve done it well,” said Budzar. “Our true ministry has been being part of the restoration of people’s lives. It’s been a lot of work to do that and run a church at the same time. We knew we could be more effective if we pushed the church element away from the situation.”
He said the decision to close Vineyard, founded in Kent in 1997, was a difficult one – particularly because its tight-knit congregation was rather small.
“Because Kent is a transitional city, we fluctuated between 100 to 150 people. Every three or so years that huge fluctuation occurred, which made it difficult. We were always starting all over again with volunteerism and everything else,” Budzar said.
Last summer he established a relationship between Vineyard and the Munroe Falls church community Mosaic, which is where Budzar, his family and many of his congregants now worship.
“They’re our No. 1 supporter of ARM and they have helped with our transition,” he said. "The other church community that’s been very supportive of us is Bread of Life, an African-American church in Silver Meadows. Both church communities help us stay above water.”
The Anonymous Relief Mission was essentially born just weeks after Easter 2006, the date Vineyard held its first service at the North DePeyster building. Budzar received a call from a friend who was volunteering at Miller Community House in Kent, an emergency shelter for families.
The friend asked if Vineyard could help a single father with three daughters who were transitioning into an apartment. They had nothing but their clothes. “I met with the family to assess their needs. I’m the father of five – three of them girls – and I just started crying,” said Budzar.
Instead of holding the usual Sunday service, Budzar “told everybody there, ‘We have 45 minutes to gather stuff for this family.’ It ended up taking an hour, but we got four van loads. People bought new clothes, pots and pans, $400 in groceries and a bunch of furniture. We left the church, went to the (family’s) apartment in Silver Meadows and set it all up.
“When I got back after that wonderful experience – it was such a powerful night for so many of us – I stopped and looked at what we did and said, ‘If we can do this in an hour for a family, what more can we do?’ That’s what burst our mission ARM,” Budzar explained.
Since then, the mission has helped more than 450 families and individuals move out of Miller, SaferFutures, a shelter for female domestic violence victims and their children, and Freedom House, a shelter for veterans.
Budzar works with each shelter’s administrators, who provide client names and checklists stating what they need to get re-established.
“Then we get to work on finding the stuff. We have a warehouse where we store all the donated furniture, everything the family needs to get set up,” he said. “We literally get to go to the shelter and help the family move into their apartment.”
Budzar said the mission, which he runs with his wife, Beth, is flourishing and that many community members are helping. Even the homeless veterans at Freedom House have become a major part of the volunteer labor force that helps families move into new homes. “These guys feel such a sense of purpose, pride and worth for doing this,” he said.
Closing Vineyard in order to serve the public through the mission often allows the volunteer group to remain anonymous, which is Budzar’s preference.
“Whether we’re going door-to-door dropping off groceries in Section 8 neighborhoods or setting up a house, we don’t want there to be strings attached. My goal is not and has never been to get a result by having people show up on Sunday (for church services) just because we gave them a bag of groceries on Friday,” Budzar said.
He added, “My goal is to help restore dignity for some of these folks because they’re constantly faced with humiliating circumstances. It’s what we’re genuinely good at, what we really enjoy.”
Donations of money, furniture, household supplies and volunteer labor are always needed. To learn about specific needs, visit the mission’s website or call 330-677-0722.