When it comes to caring for the homeless and those in need, Renee Card and Audrey Kelway think The Beatles nailed it when they sang: All You Need Is Love. Of course, that is a rather simple and idealistic approach to an otherwise huge problem, but love is certainly the foundation at River City Vineyard in Sarnia. “River City Vineyard itself is a church,” says Audrey, River City’s building manager. “But the River City Sanctuary is our men’s homeless shelter. In our shelter, we have room for 24 guys and we are nearly always full."
Audrey began attending River City Vineyard church 21 years ago. She began volunteering at the shelter 15 years ago and has since risen to the position of building and staff manager. “I basically oversee everything that happens here,” Audrey, 57, says. “I deal with phone calls, email messages, I keep track of people’s work hours and submit them to the bookkeeper, I do all orders for groceries and cleaning supplies and I do human resources work.”
Renee, meanwhile, began attending River City Vineyard in 2005 and came on as a worship pastor in 2018. “I am a musician and I heard they had dynamic music,” Renee says. “So I sent a letter to the lead pastor, George Esser, letting him know that I am a piano player and singer. He responded with an email letting me know they were looking for somebody who played piano so I was able to join a worship team at the time and have been involved ever since.” Renee, who is 39 and a mother of three, works four days a week at Sterling Mutuals, a financial company in Sarnia, and is thankful that both roles complement each other time-wise. Renee coordinates many of the church operations at River City but also helps out during the week when and where she can.
“We operate several different programs,” Renee says. “There is always coffee and soup available as donations allow, so there is usually something to eat for those who come in." River City operates a food bank, as well as a free store that is donation-based so anybody can walk in and pick up things like clothing and household items for free. Seasonally, there is also a community garden project. "Another important ministry is the shower program. This allows people who don't have access to a shower to come in and receive personal hygiene items they need. I attempt to do once-a-month meals after church, but they took a back seat during COVID. We are starting that up again now.”
The staff at River City Vineyard show those who come to them lots of love and respect. “We strive to live out the sign on our front door which reads: Come as you are; you will be loved," says Renee. "Whether it through church or the way we serve the community, our heart is for the poor and marginalized, and to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus. Our staff treats each individual with love and dignity.” Plans are currently underway to expand the homeless shelter to include 40 more beds including 15 for women. Recently, this expansion project received a huge funding boost from a very generous donation of $203,000 from a local landlord.
To donate to River City Vineyard, you can visit their website, or stop by with a donation of nonperishables, clothing, personal hygiene, or household items.