Canvas braves cold for homeless

Jessica Almeida, a member of Canvas Church in Lenoir City, puts together bags of prepackaged food to hand out to homeless people in downtown Knoxville.

Canvas Church in Lenoir City sent members to Knoxville on a snowy Christmas Day to serve the homeless a warm breakfast as part of the Love Riot ministry.

The church gathers volunteers every two weeks to venture out to a bridge underpass in downtown Knoxville to cook for the homeless. An annual Christmas Day gathering is included with Love Riot, the Rev. Nick Rains, church pastor, said.

“We go out there and take a full breakfast with pancakes, sausage and that type of stuff, eggs,” Rains said. “Then give away a little basket of bags of things they can take with them as far as packaged foods like Vienna sausages, things like that. Just so often, the homeless are kind of forgotten on Christmas, so we decided a few years ago we were going to go out there on Christmas morning and kind of share that with them.”

All of the food given away is donated by the church. The prepared food is included in the annual church budget.

Every two weeks, church members see about 250-300 homeless people. Christmas morning is unpredictable.

“Christmas morning is usually a little bit different, but I think last year we counted we served somewhere around 200 breakfasts last Christmas, if I remember correctly,” Rains said. “The year before that, around 150 or so. Sometimes we just really have no idea. A lot of it just depends on the temperature as well as if people have families that maybe they are able to go to on Christmas and spend time with family or whatever. But to be honest, we plan for 250-300 and serve as many are there, and if we have more food then we just give them all seconds or give them to-go packages to take some more to-go.”

Volunteer turnout also varies. On a typical morning, Canvas will have 10-20 volunteers. On Christmas morning, numbers have reached as high as 60. Due to the ice- and snow-covered roads and sub-freezing temperatures, the volunteer count was lower this year. Rains was already expecting a decrease due to COVID-19.

Safety precautions were taken such as volunteers wearing masks and serving gloves. Hand sanitizer was readily available.

The ministry started five years ago when Dave Shaw, church member and ministry co-founder, felt a call from God.

“I was homeless myself, and I just felt the calling from God that’s what I need to do to give back,” Shaw said. “… It’s just a good feeling being able to give back and let the homeless know that they’re not forgotten, and they’re still loved.”

Tammy Shaw, church member and ministry co-founder, said she and Dave have been members at Canvas for seven years. At first, they went alone to feed the homeless. As the effort grew, Rains helped get the church involved.

“The best part of all of it is we get to do God’s work,” Tammy said. “That’s No. 1, and that my heart’s for people. I love people. I’m actually in customer service because I love people. It’s just making sure they know we love them. … It is beyond a blessing to us to just see the love my church has for me and our ministry and the homeless. Canvas people are full of love, and I had no doubt they would be here for us. They’re just full of God and love, and it’s hard to explain unless you see it with your eyes.”