From the outside, St. Andrews By-The-Sea Episcopal Church looks like a traditional church, but once inside the four walls, it becomes so much more than worship services and Bible studies.
Through its Blue Door Ministries, the staff and numerous volunteers offer a variety of outreach programs for those in need, whether it's food, clothing or transportation.
The Blue Door Ministry, which is named after the door which those seeking help pass through, consists of a bagged lunch and food pantry program, Monday hot lunches, a bicycle program, free showers, and the Clothes Closet. The program stems from a system known as SWEEPS, which stands for service, worship, education, evangelism, pastoral care, and stewardship.
Strolling through the church on a recent Monday, volunteers could be seen packing lunches, feeding those in need, stocking the food pantry, repairing bikes and sorting through clothes in the closet.
"All of these things work in conjunction," said Nancy Skinner, senior warden at the church. "Through our volunteers, we are able to keep the Blue Door open."
Lunch Bags and Food Pantry
The church's outreach programs have grown throughout the years, starting with the lunch bag and food pantry, which began in 2000. Lunch bags are provided to anyone in the community that requests one, and during the hot summer months bottles of water are made available.
The program has grown from distributing approximately 150 bags in 2000 to distributing between 1,500 to 2,000 bags annually. As the number of people in need steadily grows, the church can always use more hands to help prepare the meals. Donations of water and food items are always welcomed.
Monday Hot Lunches
The hot lunch program dates back to 2006 when Jennifer and William Lee began the soup and sandwich lunch ministry.
As the program evolved, church officials began to realize that many of the people they were serving rarely had a decent meal, let alone a hot meal prepared by someone else. So they quickly began to offer hot meals as part of Monday's lunch.
"We identified the need in the community, which was for a more well-rounded, nutritious meal," Skinner told The Log.
On average, about 30 people attend the lunch session each day. A typical meal can vary based upon food items available, but Monday's lunch featured homemade chicken noodle soup, freshly prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit and dessert.
While the majority of the faces that come for lunch are familiar, Cindy Hoeb, who oversees the program with her husband, Bob, said they see a mix of young and old attendees.
"It's hugely rewarding," she said of helping those in need. "They are so grateful. At the end of the day, when we finish, you do feel as though you've helped people."
Those attending the lunches are also treated like guests in a restaurant. They are seated and served by volunteers.
"These people become our friends," Father Barry Crow told The Log.
More than 900 individuals were served hot lunches in 2013, and a total of 6,762 lunches were made by volunteers. Calvary Chapel has begun assisting St. Andrews with its lunch program, purchasing and donating food items.
To participate in the hot lunch program, one must provide their first and last name and abide by the program's rules.
"We do have rules and regulations they must follow," Skinner said. "We ask very little of them. We basically ask them to be sober, we don't allow alcohol, and they have to be respectful of the premises, and that's about it."
Dating back to 2006, the ministry's bike program was started by Duane St. John. Now, the program is under the guidance of Walt Chidsey, who is also responsible for training volunteers in the bike shop.
When The Log joined Chidsey and his group known as the "Motley Crew" in their shop Monday, the volunteers were hard at work.
The bike shop accepts donations of new and used bikes and bike parts, which gives the guys plenty of work to keep them busy.
"At the end of last month, we gave away our 501st bike," said volunteer Bill James. "We've probably given away at least 1,000 bikes."
A majority of the bikes at St. Andrews are donated by Big Daddy's in Blue Mountain Beach, Watercolors in Grayton Beach, and from the Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa County Sheriff's offices.
Despite a constant source of donations, the Motley Crew says they can always use more bikes.
More than 200 bikes were given out to those in need in 2013. The donated bikes provide transportation to doctors’ appointments and job interviews. With a waiting list in place, they are given to anyone who requests one.
To donate a bike or learn more about the program, call the church at 650-2737 or contact Chidsey directly at 687-9330.
What began as an enclosed, outdoor shower has been transformed into a fully enclosed, indoor shower thanks to grant money from Opportunity Inc.
Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, officials from St. Andrews say that shower facility garners as much appreciation from those in need as the food programs do.
All told, approximately 1,800 showers were taken last year.
Given the demand for shower facilities, the church can always use new or used bath towels and wash cloths, disposable razors and volunteers who can tackle the laundry duties.
The Clothes Closet
As one of the newer ministry outreach programs, the Clothes Closet provides much needed clothes to those who don't have adequate attire.
Annabelle Anderson has been volunteering at the church since 2000, and said the clothes closet was started about 4 years ago with "a pile of stuff here and a pile of stuff there."
"People can come in and get anything they may need," she told The Log.
St. Andrews currently partners with Niceville United Methodist Church on a trade program where the two entities can swap items for needed supplies.
In addition to clothes, sleeping bags, coats and jackets are supplied as available. James said they are always on the lookout for jeans and sweatshirts, tennis shoes and socks, and new men's and women's underwear.
Given the frigid temperatures as of late, the staff at St. Andrews said they would like to see a place where those with no homes of their own could escape the elements, even if only for a short period of time.
Skinner told The Log they used to have a metal shed on property where they kept sleeping bags and blankets, but they no longer have the shed.
"What is really hard is most of these guys work outdoors as painters or such, so they are working outdoors and they are sleeping outdoors as well," Skinner said. "Would it be nice for Destin to have a shelter, absolutely — it would be wonderful."
There is no shortage of moving parts at the Blue Door Ministries and St. Andrews By-The-Sea, but the staffers and volunteers wouldn't have it any other way.
And it's not uncommon for those that receive help from the church to return the favor and give back to the church.
"Some of the people that we've helped have become volunteers to help pay us back," said Crow. "There is no requirement to do so, they just want to do it."
To learn more about Blue Door Ministries and St. Andrews visit standrewsbtsepiscopal.org/or call 650-2737.
"Our Lord says when you do it to these, you should do it to me, so that's what we try and do," Crow told The Log.