Every time Audree Santana went through the intersection of Route 326 and I-75 in Ocala, Florida, she encountered homeless people who lived under the bridge. Surprisingly, she even found homeless people in her classroom. In a recent Point in Time count (a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January), there are “271 unsheltered homeless people, ranging in age from 12 to 82, living outside in the elements in Marion County.”
Santana had a jammed-packed schedule already with teaching, pursuing a Ph.D., and being CEO of an income tax preparation business; as well as various choral activities and personal ministry activities, including cards and visits for the sick and shut-ins. What could one person do? “Sometimes, you just have to make time,” she says. She began by making small packages containing ready-to-eat items, and keeping them handy on her front passenger seat.
When a kind woman allowed the homeless to move to woods behind the bridge, Santana assisted them by getting donations of tents, warm clothing, and personal hygiene products. She was thankful when the Hilton Hotel donated more than 50 blankets and bed pads through the assistance of Shadai Perez, an employee and church member. From the summer of 2008 until 2012, Santana cooked a wholesome meal for the homeless every Sunday, and sometimes on a weekday.
When this group of homeless dissipated, Santana looked for new people to help. She located a kitchen-on-wheels type of operation in town, and asked if they could use the food she had. The woman hugged her almost breathless and said, “Thank you, Jesus! You, young lady, are the answer to our prayers as one of our faithful helpers cannot return to help.” Santana is usually there helping on Thursdays.
Every holiday season, Santana’s ministry includes renting a pavilion at the park, and giving the homeless literature, clothing, and a warm meal in addition to entertaining them. She appreciates the support she receives from friends at area Adventist churches and her family.
Florida | May 2019