Coffee Shop Experience Inspires University of Mobile Student to Start Homeless Ministry

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   MOBILE, Ala. – The barista stands smiling behind the counter while preparing drinks. Meanwhile, an unkempt, older man walks in: dirty blue jeans, a shirt several sizes too large, his face unshaven and burned from the sun.

 

“Hey there, Chelsey!” he calls to the barista.

“Hey, Mr. Jimmy!” she returns, coming from behind the counter and to reach out for a hug – still smiling.

This smiling barista is Chelsey Sayasane, now Miss University of Mobile 2017. The man is Mr. Jimmy, a homeless man and a frequenter of Moka’s Coffee Company in Saraland, Ala. where Chelsey has served as a barista for several years.

Their friendship sparked an idea that became a ministry to provide winter, rain and business coats to the homeless and create relationships. Chelsey started the “Coats of Many Colors” ministry in 2016 as a college student at the Christian university in south Alabama, one of the rainiest cities in the nation. It became part of her platform in the Miss University of Mobile pageant, which she won in February 2017. A national company based in Mobile and led by a UM graduate, Slingshot Inc., liked the idea and promoted it nationwide through their business. Chelsey will continue sharing the ministry as she competes in the Miss Alabama pageant June 7-10.

Chelsey said God used Mr. Jimmy to open her heart to loving people in ways she hadn’t before.

“He would come into Moka’s every week and ask if he could pick up the trash in the parking lot,” said Chelsey. “He just wanted to help out. When I would see him, I would talk to him like I would to a friend. We talked about his family, what led him to become homeless, and why he thought it was so hard to overcome. I saw him as a human being, not just a homeless man.”

Chelsey eventually asked Mr. Jimmy what the homeless community needed most from their neighbors throughout Mobile County.

“He told me that they needed emotional care, to know they aren’t forgotten, but physically, they needed coats,” said Chelsey.

This conversation prompted her to pray for what God was calling her to do: to actively work with the homeless community in Mobile. And soon, she went to work.

“I started to strategize. I made a goal to do one coat drop-off a month and collect coats throughout the month,” she explained.

Chelsey collects coats from all over the community of Saraland just north of the city of Mobile – Saraland High School, Bridgeway Academy and Merle Norman. She picks up the coats from each location and partners with local organization One Meal to distribute coats one Sunday a month. The coats are distributed directly to homeless men and women in downtown Mobile.

During Chelsey’s very first coat delivery, a local news anchor was running in Bienville Square, a public park in downtown Mobile. The anchor grew curious about what was going on, so she stopped running to ask. After hearing Chelsey’s story, she conducted a brief Facebook Live interview with Chelsey.

“That interview opened so many doors,” said Chelsey.

To date, Chelsey has collected more than 1,000 coats, and the coats keep coming. Despite the influx of donations, there are still needs to fill. Monetary donations to Coats of Many Colors can be made online through University of Mobile at giving.umobile.edu.

“Right now, there are so many more women’s coats than men’s, but there are more homeless men in Mobile than there are homeless women,” noted Chelsey.

But she remains patient as she considers ways to remedy the shortage of men’s coats, keeping her focus on a more important issue: spreading the gospel. In addition to collecting and giving away coats, Chelsey has prayed with over 80 homeless men and women.

“It’s much more than giving away free coats,” she continued. “I want those who are homeless to know they are not forgotten, that we see them in their struggle. This is about building relationships in our community.”

“Jesus is so faithful,” said Chelsey. “When I was praying about this, I asked the Lord to take control. I wanted Him to use me in whatever I did. When I began serving others, I always expected to make an impact, but this has changed me and my heart.”

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About the Author
Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean

Kathy is an award-winning public relations professional and former journalist with a strong background in strategic communications, feature writing/story-telling, copywriting and editing. She serves as assistant vice president for university communications. Kathy joined the University of Mobile marketing/public relations staff in 1993 and has earned awards for writing, public relations and advertising, including twice receiving the grand prize for feature writing from the Baptist Communicators Association. She serves on the board of the John M. Will Scholarship Foundation, awarding scholarships to promising student journalists; and is a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, Baptist Communicators Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Kathy lives in Daphne with her husband, Chuck, who earned his M.B.A. from University of Mobile. They have two children and two grandchildren.

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