Photo: David Van Fleet, founder of Street LIFE Ministries
By Tom Campisi, publisher of tristatevoice.com
For Street LIFE Ministries, the road has been narrow, bumpy, and laden with detours over the last five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, David Van Fleet and his team remain resolute in their mission of serving and loving people in New York City who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, and desperation.
All through the year, and especially in the summer months, Street Life typically hosts teams of people from across the United States who come to serve, but the Coronavirus has all but shut down that pipeline of out-of-town volunteers. In addition, some social programs in New York have been reduced, making Street LIFE’s services even more crucial.
“We are working non-stop,” said David Van Fleet, who founded Street LIFE Ministries (SLM) in 1997 with his wife Robin. “Other food pantries have shut down. New York is going backward.”
But Van Fleet is not complaining. He feels blessed to serve, even with a small, but mighty team that includes long-time staff member Carol Werronen (17 years with SLM) and her uncle, Jim Werronen, who joined the team last year. In a recent Facebook video, Van Fleet talked about SLM’s “Loving Drive-By” on Northern Boulevard in Queens. From its well-recognized van, the ministry gave out bags of groceries to migrant workers, many of whom are out of work. The bags included corn, rice and beans, fruits, breakfast sandwiches, and other items, including Spanish versions of the Gospel of John and a Jesus Film DVD.
“It was a great day and a great opportunity,” he said. “We were blessed to do so.”
SLM distributes hundreds of grocery bags each week to men who are looking for work. Although work was hard to find, the men were able to bring food home to their families.
“We serve the Lord. We love the Lord and we love His people,” Van Fleet said. “But we especially love the lost, the poor, the homeless, the hurting, and the desperate, those that feel helpless—because we have been [like that] and know what God has done for us. His redemption draws nigh.” (story continues after photo)
Another regular stop for the Street Life van is Tomkins Square Park in Manhattan, which is only a few blocks from an area which was recently featured by the New York Post for its burgeoning homeless population and drug use.
“A number of the folks living there come to receive the food and hygiene kits and clothes we bring,” Van Fleet said.
This was also true during the cold, dark days of spring, at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Street Life Ministries faithfully served the least of these in Tompkins Park and on the Lower East Side when most churches and soup kitchens were shut down.
“The homeless, they are always sick,” Van Fleet said. “We’re around sick people all the time. They are cared for, loved, and prayed for. And they love it.”
And Van Fleet noticed an even greater sense of desperation, but more gratefulness than he had ever seen.
“People were coming out of Brooklyn. People were coming out of some new shelters because they heard about what we bring,” he said. “They heard about the love of Jesus. They heard about the care packs, the soup. So more people showed up every day.”
In addition to feeding people on the street, the ministry also shares the Good News and connects them with social services resources. Street Life’s “Beautiful One” ministry serves women who are often trafficked and working in massage parlors in Queens. There are also prayer stations set up around the city, and ministry to children in parks and playgrounds.
“The need is great,” Van Fleet said, as he looks forward to a day when social distancing limitations can enable more interns and visiting teams to come and serve with his team.
“We are here and ready for you!” he recently said in a Facebook post that encouraged volunteers to come. “It’s truly a day to arise and shine. God’s glory is on you and on New York City!”
The mission is “to mobilize and training the body of Christ to teach them how to love, and serve, and worship God and then make him known.”
And there are some silver-lined blessings in this pandemic. According to Van Fleet, the current crisis could usher in a revival.
“I see the Lord doing so much in the body right now,” he said. “He is preparing us and readying us to come into a greater place of intimacy and prayer with Him. If the body of Christ will rise up, this can be our best hour. Our very best hour. God wants to bring awakening, revival, and transformation, not just here, but globally.”
In the meantime, SLM continues to serve steadfastly and welcomes prayer and financial help.
“We encourage you to pray for Street Life and we encourage you to support the work of Street Life,” Van Fleet said. “Every gift counts…not just monetary gifts—we have received food and clothes and care packs and hygiene kits. Men’s clothing is always needed. We are thankful to people who support us and thankful to the Lord.”