FMO sees growing homeless problem
John Hicks FCT Staff Writer
To illustrate the growing homeless problem in Franklin County, Matthew Mangino of Faith Mission Outreach in Russellville told a story about a surprise encounter with a homeless man.
"We have a panel truck for bread deliveries that we park behind the mission," Mangino said. "The other day I went out and raised the door up, and a man inside the truck jumped up and screamed. I screamed, too. I'll bet they heard me clear across town."
As Mangino and the homeless man recovered their composure, Mangino saw that the man had been taking shelter in the back of the truck, even setting up a cot to sleep on.
The man received assistance from FMO for a few days, then disappeared.
"There aren't any facilities in this area to help the homeless," Mangino said. "People sleep in their cars and in the back of trucks. Some people sleep in alleys. Most of these people are in hiding. They're living in fear. They're afraid of being arrested, or having their children taken from them. These people need help."
FMO is in the process of converting the old Russellville Hospital building on Coffee Street into a 40-bed homeless shelter, Grace Place.
"The downstairs is pretty much ready for the sprinkler system," Mangino said. "We still have some sheetrock work to complete upstairs."
Mangino said the sprinkler system alone will cost FMO $40,000.
"We had no idea when we started the project that we'd run into these kinds of costs," Mangino said. "We're spending thousands and thousands of dollars bringing the building up to code."
Mangino said FMO is in need of volunteers who can hang and finish out sheetrock at Grace Place. He also noted that the mission, located on South Jackson Avenue, is always seeking more volunteer help.
"With cold weather approaching, our top priority is to have our homeless facility ready for the winter," Mangino said.
Mangino, 38, has been in the ministry for 12 years. The Russellville native started FMO, a non-denominational, all-volunteer operation, three years ago. Mangino left his job as youth minister for a large church in the Shoals after feeling an overwhelming desire to return home.
"I knew that I was supposed to come back to Russellville and use the gifts that God has given me to make a difference," Mangino said. "Three years later, we're reaching up to 1,800 people a week with food, dry goods, clothing, furniture and appliances. We're doing more than we thought we'd ever be able to."
Mangino said local churches played a large role in FMO's success.
"Local churches have been wonderful," Mangino said. "Some support us with food drives, and several have dedicated a percentage of their monthly offerings to us. In turn, they refer people who come to them for assistance to us. We're better equipped to help with those needs."
FMO has 501(c)(3) status, so businesses and individuals can write their donations off on their taxes.
Mangino's willingness to take on seemingly impossible tasks has resulted in one of the area's strongest ministries. He admitted his style was unconventional, but said it produced results.
"I wear a lot of different hats," Mangino said. "I love motorcycles. I love old cars. I love art, and I draw a lot. I guess I walk to the beat of a different drum. But it works. We're reaching a lot of people."
To make a donation to FMO, call 331-GIVE.