Ministry offers help to the hopeless

'Church lady' started giving donations out of car; now she has a warehouse
by: photo by Ellen Spitaleri,

Teri Gant knows what it is like to be desperate.

'I came from a background of broken-ness and poverty - that's my background. I know what it's like to feel that no one cares. I can see it in their eyes - it's familiar,' she said.

Gant, who around Clackamas County and in Portland is known as the 'lady in the van' or the 'church lady,' is the founder of The Father's Heart Street Ministry in the Clackamas Business Park.

She, her husband Marty and a group of dedicated volunteers actively seek out the homeless in the county, and offer them food, clothing and household goods.

But Teri Gant and her Father's Heart Street Ministry offer the homeless and low income families more than that - she offers them hope.

'I want them to know they are not forgotten. I want them to know they are valuable, and they are not just looked at as nothing,' she said.

Ministry began on the streets

'I started out going to the streets and soup kitchens in Portland, and I was heartbroken [to see so many in need], so I began handing out socks and sweatshirts from my car. Then when I shared my vision with people, they donated things and it overflowed into our house and then the garage,' Gant said.

When food and donated goods began spilling out of the garage, Gant moved into a warehouse four years ago, and when that became too small, Father's Heart Street Ministry moved to its present site next door to the Mattress World warehouse.

'The owners [of Clackamas Business Park] have no problem with our clientele and now we are open to the general public,' she explained.

There are not a lot of services available to the homeless and needy in Clackamas County, Gant pointed out, adding that when you add in low-income families the projected numbers rise to 'about 8,000' people, she said.

'The highest hunger rate is children, especially children of single moms,' Gant added.

Food, clothing and more

Teri Gant describes herself as the founder of The Father's Heart Street Ministry, and noted that all her funding comes from the general public, churches, service organizations and businesses.

She links up with other agencies, like Bridges to Change, which is a mentoring organization that helps newly released prisoners and recovering addicts get their lives back in order.

'We work with anybody in need,' she said, and mostly what she offers on-site is help.

'We help them find other agencies that can help them; we help with housing and social security. I post job listings and help them get identification cards.'

She did note however that she is not able to provide shelter, but when a family calls in 'desperate need,' she can often give them enough money to put them up in a motel for a night or two.

In the Clackamas warehouse, Gant and volunteers have set up a break room, where anyone may come in for coffee, snacks and to read the newspaper.

Visitors may take a shower and leave clothing to be laundered, or they can pick up a sack lunch, put together a food box from the pantry and 'shop' for free clothing.

Before Christmas, the Gladstone Fire Department dropped off loads of toys for children to choose from.

But now, facing the new year, Gant said that her pantry shelves are getting bare and she could use donations of non-perishable food and warm clothing items for those who live on the streets.

'The hungry are still hungry 365 days a year and the poor are still poor 365 days a year,' Gant noted.

Everyone respectful

Marty, Gant's husband, said that it was hard for him at first, when he saw what his wife was doing, and thought about the people she was meeting and the places she was going. But now, he said, 'I support her spiritually and I've also released Teri to do whatever she wants. I'm on the board [of the street ministry] and I'm part of the process.'

'In the early days, I was going under bridges and down muddy paths, looking for the homeless. When I met someone I'd ask how I could help, and if I found no one there, but evidence that someone was living there, I'd leave lunches, some socks and my card,' Teri Gant said.

'Most are very grateful and not a threat to me. They are hungry and cold and they have lost their way. I'm a very hands-on person. I hug them and shake their hands and they cry on my shoulder.

'They melt when I hug them, because it has been awhile since somebody cared,' Teri Gant said.

Changing lives

'These are people in need, desperate people, broken people, and we love them anyway. We accept them - we don't judge them. They weren't called to stand on a street corner,' Terri Gant said.

'This is faith-based - we want to be Jesus to people, as if Jesus was walking the earth. We want to be him in action - his love in action. Love is a powerful gift. We love [the people we meet] and change begins to happen,' she said.

It is not always easy, Marty Gant said, but he, his wife and the volunteers know that all it takes is 'one person. When we see them successful, that makes it worthwhile.'

'We want to build them up again so they will believe in themselves. It is about getting them to move back to being productive citizens,' Teri Gant said.

'Another side of this, is because the ministry is all volunteers, it affects their viewpoint. Many have pre-determined ideas about the homeless and low-income families, but they have grown to understand and learn. Their heart turns around,' Marty Gant said.

Warehouse site

Both of the Gants noted that once visitors step into the warehouse, there are 'boundaries' that they must follow.

'When they come here, they can't be drunk or out of it. They must be respectful of the facilities and to the volunteers. They can come here and have coffee, but they can't hang out all day long,' Teri Gant said.

She added, 'They are so grateful and very respectful. They know that I love them and I'm not just doing my good deed for the day - and that makes a difference.'

'They are thankful and they can see a heart that cares and they can let their guard down,' her husband added.

He described his wife as 'always on the lookout' for the homeless and poor.

'She seeks them out, or others tell her [where to find the homeless]. A lot are referenced here. They'll say 'Have you met Teri? The lady in the van?' It's a little network,' he added.

'When I'm driving around and I see someone [homeless] that I don't know, I stop and ask them what they need. I tell them that we have a group of homeless people meeting or I'll ask them where they'd like to meet, and I'll bring food and warm clothing,' Teri Gant said.

Volunteers 'awesome'

Teri Gant has set up a schedule of activities that she and her volunteers follow.

The handing out of sack lunches is 'ongoing,' she said, noting that Thursdays are shower days. On Saturdays, she and the volunteers drive around the county handing out hot breakfasts to about 60 people.

The office in Clackamas Business Park is open Tuesdays and Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for people to donate items, and from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the needy to pick up food, clothing and household items.

'Every four to six weeks we do a dinner and a movie night, which is a big potluck. I set up a big-screen TV that was donated, and we watch movies,' she added.

Every other Wednesday, she goes into Portland and sets up a snack table outside the Blanchet House of Hospitality.

There are about 35 volunteers who drive around the county with her and who make lunches.

'I couldn't operate without my volunteers. If I didn't have them here to help me -I couldn't make it,' Teri Gant said.

What she likes best about her 'calling,' she said, is when she is able to see a 'glimmer of hope' in the eyes of just one person.

Recently a single mother came in 'with tears in her eyes,' and 'I gave her a hug.'

Then Gant showed her the toys available for her children, and 'I saw that [desperate] look replaced with a look of hope.'

She added, 'If I can help someone in some small way - give them hope. It's worth it to me.'



The Father's Heart

Street Ministry

8899 SE Jannsen Road

Clackamas 97015


Hours of operation:

Tuesdays and Fridays, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for sack lunch pick up and other items.

Donations of non-perishable food and warm clothing items are accepted on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Wednesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Send monetary donations to the above address.

Organizations that support The Father's Heart Street Ministry include:

Quilters with Joy, 12 local churches, including the Sunnyside Foursquare Church, the Gladstone Fire Department, Premier Press, Legend Custom Woodworking Inc., Safeway Golf Foundation and Tom Maletis and the Sunrise Rotary Club of North Clackamas.