For God, the Faithful One, is not unfair. How can he forget the beautiful work you have done for him? He remembers the love you demonstrate as you continually serve his beloved ones for the glory of his name. Hebrews 6:10 (TPT)

WHO’S BRUNO?

Bruno is a character in the 2021 Disney movie, Encanto. Consisting of gossip and anecdotes about Mirabel Madrigal’s ostracized uncle, Bruno, whose gift of seeing the future has been associated with misfortune and has left him estranged from the rest of the family, the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, sees some of the family members and the townsfolk explain to Mirabel why they do not talk about Bruno. The song suggests that Bruno is villainous, but sheds the narrative styles of conventional Disney villain songs by listing other characters’ perspectives of the villain and having some characters hint that they sympathize with him. At risk of spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, Bruno’s “predictions” are less about predicting than they are about raising awareness of problems and suggesting possible outcomes if things don’t change, very much like the messages delivered by the early Bible prophets.

WHAT DOES BRUNO HAVE TO DO WITH UNION GROVE?

When Union Grove began to gather in-person again following lifting of the COVID-19 safety measures, the congregation began to talk about community outreach and what needs they were aware of. Most of those discussions centered around the homeless population in Blount County. We’re a very small rural church with limited financial resources, but that didn’t stop the congregation from seeking solutions they could pull off with what they had on hand. Those brainstorming sessions led to forming a partnership with A Place to Stay to work toward finding transitional housing for  homeless/houseless people in Blount County.

Because we felt strongly about protecting the dignity of those we were working to serve and because often those we serve can be escaping abusive or otherwise dangerous environments, we chose not to publicize what we were doing. A member of our congregation suggested referring to the work as our “Bruno Projects,” because “no one talks about Bruno.” It was such an appropriate name, we immediately adopted it for our mission work.

We still don’t publicize all details of our Bruno projects. Our belief that those we serve deserve privacy, maintenance of their dignity, and especially our desire to keep them safe from any potential abuse means that, while we’re willing to acknowledge the existence of our “Bruno” publicly, we won’t be sharing much about Bruno activities at this time. We assure you, however, that we do have a definite plan for moving forward with as much haste as possible.

What We Will Share

In the movie, Encanto, Bruno’s predictions cause a rift between him and his family to such a degree that he hides himself away in the walls of the house they all live in and, from that point on, is on the outside of the family looking in through cracks and holes in the walls – no longer a part of the family and, because they don’t talk about him, no longer remembered by the family. When he does finally reappear, the family’s first reaction is both fear and rejection.

Like Bruno, those who find themselves homeless/houseless also find themselves unwanted by the community. People that might once have been our neighbors are suddenly a burden, a scourge, a disgrace. Businesses don’t want them parking the cars that have become home in their parking lots, resting in the shade of their store front awnings, or being seen pushing whatever carts they’ve come up with along public sidewalks. They’re regularly discouraged from using public parks even during daylight hours and ordinances against their “camping” in wooded areas … ordinances that include destroying their tents and temporary shelters … are used to try to drive them away.

There are organizations that do what they can to help. Several Blount County churches provide temporary shelter in extreme weather when the outside temperatures reach dangerous highs or lows, regularly serve meals, stock blessing boxes with non-perishable groceries and other necessities, and run food, clothing, and hygiene pantries, but it’s hard to find ways to get the homeless/houseless off the streets, out of the parking lots, and into housing they can afford. Efforts to create such shelters that house the homeless (Blount County doesn’t have any at this time) are often thwarted by nitpicking code enforcement designed to discourage the very creation of such shelters, or by neighborhood and business coalitions that agree something is needed but “we don’t want them in our backyards” to such a degree that the TN State legislature passed a bill that essentially criminalizes being homeless. Their reasoning is tied to stereotypes about the activities and habits of the homeless/houseless and property values.

Kudos to those churches and other groups that are doing what they’re doing. They are providing vital services to our neighbors and the least among us. While we applaud their work, we are a very small congregation that doesn’t have the financial or human resources to provide the meals or stock and run pantries. Because we are both small and a rural church and while we will be able to offer shelter during weather extremes, we will only be able to serve the physical needs of those who can get to us.

You Can Help Us Help the Least Among Us

That there is more that needs to be done is why we’re looking at ways we can fill the still existing gaps in services provided to the homeless/houseless here in Blount County, why we are partnering with A Place to Stay, and why we will continue to seek partnerships with other relevant organizations and with individuals and Blount County industries and businesses who feel the way we do: that it is our responsibility to uplift and serve the least among us in any way possible. We know what we have to work with and we know that there are still things needed to serve them.

If you’re an organization, business, or resident of Blount County who has a sincere interest in helping the homeless/houseless as opposed to just keeping them out of sight, out of mind … even if you’re somewhere else and looking for a way to help the homeless regardless of where … we invite you to partner with us. Our needs are listed below with as much detail as we can provide without putting those we serve at risk along with contact and other important links. We look forward to meeting and working with you.

If you are sincerely interested in helping us, you can contact our pastor: Rev. Val Ohle, at 865-924-8339, or email her at revsheseesfar@comcast.net. She will be happy to set up a meeting with you and/or your board. 

 

All services listed below are intended to be delivered at a site of our choosing as those we serve may not be able to transport themselves or find reliable transportation to other locations.

  • Organizations that can provide “life skill,” “job skill,” GED, possibly ESL and other classes.
  • Organizations and professional associations that can provide counseling, therapy, and other mental health related services at no-cost.
  • Organizations that can provide general health and wellness services, healthcare referrals, and social service referrals, including assistance in completing and submitting any required paperwork or applications.

 

Both existing and planned “Bruno Projects” require financial assistance that we use as follows:

  • Providing nutritional support to those served (we keep a cupboard of non-perishable and microwavable foods, toiletries, and other necessities that are distributed to those we serve).
  • Covering additional utility costs incurred where those we serve are housed.
  • Purchasing items like beds and bedding.
  • Providing means for communication for those who do not have a cell-phone or other personal communication device needed for making emergency calls, contacting and being accessible to potential employers, utilizing online services for job searches, job applications, and housing searches and applications. 
  • Current and future capitol improvement projects benefitting those we serve.

There are two ways to contribute financially:

  1. The easiest way is through our online account at Tithely.  Just visit https://tithe.ly/give?c=4118449, under “Funds” choose “Bruno” and make your donation. If there is a specific area listed above that you want your donation to be used for, just drop our pastor an email and she’ll let us know. Tithely also allows us to send you a record of your contributions for tax purposes and, if this is something you’d like to support regularly, allows you to set up recurring donations.
  2. You can mail a check made payable to “Union Grove UMC” to “Union Grove UMC, 1151 Lane Drive, Friendsville TN 37737,” but please make sure you write “BRUNO PROJECTS” on the memo line and, again, include a note if there is a specific area listed above that you want your donation to be used for.

Are you one of those lucky folks that can spot a good deal? If so, we could use the following items:

  • Non-perishable foods that do not require refrigeration and can be cooked in a microwave
  • Toiletries such as the trial size toothpaste, liquid hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, deoderant, etc.
  • Personal hygiene items such as tooth brushes, face wipes, feminine hygiene products
  • Children’s hygiene items such as baby wipes, lotions, shampoos, and conditioners
  • Gift cards for area gas stations
  • Gift cards for area grocery stores
  • Gift cards for professional services like hair stylists and barbers
  • Gift cards for Wal-Mart, Target, and BigLots (will be used for those who have special needs such as diapers)

To donate any of these items, please contact our pastor who will arrange to meet with you and pick up the items.