By Keisa Sharpe
A visit to Urban Ministry proves to be equally eventful and heartwarming.
It’s lunchtime and the cafeteria is packed. The aroma of home-cooked meats and fresh vegetables billows through the air. Once inside the cafe, the tables are packed. Patrons are eating and communing just as they would at any other eatery.
Urban Ministry Executive Director Melodie Agnew walks around greeting customers with a welcoming smile.
Agnew is equally comfortable greeting lunch guests and advocating for those served in this community.
Ministering through healthy meals
There are several novelties about this spot called West End Cafe, or WE Cafe, which makes it unique among its restaurant neighbors.
For one, the produce doesn’t come from a local market. It is harvested just steps away in West End Garden, or WE garden, the community garden.
Those who abound financially, and even those who don’t, break bread together. Hearty soul food in a welcoming environment is the common thread regardless of person’s pay scale, and all are welcome.
WE cafe started as a soup kitchen, but now people come and pay as they can. So educators, volunteers and community and business leaders can sit at family-style tables where food is prepared fresh.
The garden fruits and vegetables are also sold at local markets. These include Pepper Place and twice-weekly at Princeton Hospital.
The WE Cafe is open each Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Meeting more than financial needs
Some customers also have a great need for suitable housing.
Not only does Urban Ministry provide assistance with rent, home repairs and maintenance like painting, Urban Ministries partners with the Salvation Army to provide energy assistance to elderly and disabled clients through Project Share.
Urban Ministry has the largest Project Share clientele in Birmingham.
Agnew says the new Energy Assistance Portal( EAP),created by Alabama Power, is an invaluable resource to the agency. Agency leaders say EAP provides a user-friendly platform for intake workers to quickly access information needed to post real-time energy assistance pledges and payments.
This in turn gives more time for workers to serve clients.
Under a broad umbrella, their work covers financial needs, but in its simplest form, it’s all about providing a better quality of life for adults who are in need, along with their children.
A record number of children enrolled in summer school. Staff had to prepare for 90 schoolchildren this year at Urban Ministry – including meals, activities and accommodations for each student.
And Agnew says it doesn’t stop there.
“In addition to our students, families of these students also come with various needs. Urban Ministries works to help support those needs of families with the help of our church and corporate partners.”
Empowering those they serve
For Agnew, serving as executive director holds a two-fold meaning. She can look out her office window, where she grew up in West End just steps from where she sits today. Not only does she serve this community: she and her family are a part of it.
Her great-grandfather and grandfather had businesses in the community. Her father and grandmother were educators in the community. She saw them providing opportunities for the community.
Agnew believes in not only providing programs and resources for neighbors, but investing in people by teaching them to be their own advocates and support. The work is great, but Agnew’s determination and vision are without end.
Prior to joining Urban Ministry, Agnew worked as executive director of the Norwood Resource Center, where she dedicated her time to supporting families and building vibrant neighborhoods.
Agnew says she wants to leave a legacy of service and strengthening her community, just as her family did.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.