Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve Santa Rosa County residents’ quality of life.
MILTON — The Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen of Pensacola offers not only food but also three-week emergency shelter and two-year temporary housing. Two of the 14 temporary homes in Loaves and Fishes’ Temporary Housing Program are located in Milton.
Christian Life Church has sponsored the two Milton homes for more than a decade. The homes are fully furnished, have central heat and air, lawn sprinkler systems and a white picket fence.
Marcie Carman is a church member and is the liaison between the church and Loaves and Fishes; hers is a position every church supporting a transitional home fills.
"It means I’m a friend, a listening ear," Carman said. "I encourage them. I also make sure when the church is doing something special like the angel tree or giving basket, their names are in there."
Carman just completed a year as a mentor.
"I’ve always had a heart for people struggling and want to do better," she said. "I’ve been a mentor in different capacities most of my adult life and these people are really working hard; good people working hard to get on their feet."
Most of the people Carman mentors are single mothers, she said. One of her mentees, she said, found a job back in Indiana.
"She’s working hard," she said. "She’s back in school. We stay in touch. That’s what I do. When they’re thinking through their next steps, we talk it through. Being a single mother is a hard job."
The two homes have residents now, Carman said, but it can sometimes take a couple of months to replace them when residents complete the program.
"The Santa Rosa County houses are a little harder to fill than Pensacola," she said. "One was empty three months before getting someone to live in Santa Rosa County. A girl got a job in Milton and was able to move in with her kids … It’s harder because Santa Rosa doesn’t have the jobs. There aren’t a lot of jobs for non-skilled workers in Milton so it’s a little harder to get work here. It makes the commute harder."
Carman said she admires the families she supports.
"It’s so encouraging to meet with these people," she said. "To see them really fighting for their families is what they’re doing. They’re a testimony. I’m able to come and pray with them if they want to pray. Both these families really want to and one comes to church with us.
"It’s encouraging to me to see these people get stronger and stronger and make healthy choices for their families. It’s heroic what they’re doing because they didn’t get in these situations because of stupid choices. Circumstances happen."
According to the Loaves and Fishes website at loavesandfishessoupkitchen.com, families have two years to find employment, catch up on bills, eradicate debt and save money to help them move when they exit the program.
In addition to mentorship, families receive intensive social work, financial planning, employment skills, educational opportunities and counseling.