St. George of Orlando Parish Feeds Hundreds During Weekly Outreach
St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church of Orlando, Florida was founded in 1968. During the V. Rev. Fr. John Hamatie's thirty-seven year tenure the parish purchased and remodeled their church building, and also bought the office building and parking lot behind the Church. The parish has been a presence downtown since 1974, when the community established the annual tradition of Diving for the Cross in Lake Eola Park. Then in 1976 the parish celebrated their first liturgy in the church downtown, on the Fourth of July.
In 2009 in conjunction with the Ephraim Project, Fr. John began to put St. George's parking lot to good use during the week, when he established a weekly feeding for those he calls "our homeless brothers and sisters." Volunteers arrive earlier in the day to prepare food for between 150 and 200 people every Friday; meals are served in the outdoors in the same place that parishioners park on Sundays. "The Blessings deriving to us for over the last year of feeding 200 homeless men, women and children every Friday behind the Church is perhaps one of our greatest spiritual 'highs.' To be actually fulfilling a command of the Lord to love those closest in proximity is a wonderful thing."
Plans are in the works to partner with the local chapter of FOCUS [Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve], which will connect the volunteers at St. George with a wider gathering of all the local Orthodox Churches who want to work together to minister to the homeless. "From the few to, hopefully, the many," Fr. John told a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel, in an article published HERE.
"We are working toward opening the Mama+Alyce Hamatie Fellowship Hall of St. George's," notes Fr. Hamatie, "to become a weekday daily needs center for homeless people. Here they would receive help for example with getting an identity card, veterans services, drug counseling, etc. In addition, we are working in the near future to gather different feeding ministries to provide food on a daily basis at St. George's. Through the Grace of Almighty God, St. George's in Orlando is showing in a very real way one of the lines in the Troparion of our Patron Saint George: 'Defender of the Poor.'"
In order to increase their ministry to the poor and homeless, St. George is seeking financial help. Besides the homeless needs center, the parish is planning for a Multi-Ethnic Cultural Center, which will be used for the purpose of community education and interaction between people from different lands, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
"One of the most important aspects of our homeless feeding ministry is the opportunity to educate people about the Holy Orthodox Faith," explains Fr. John. "We have been blessed with a number of homeless people who have embraced the Orthodox Faith. St. George's of Orlando is truly blessed to do a little to help those who have lost almost everything in their lives. Please pray for us, and especially for the homeless of God's children."