Columbus Dream Center offers hot meals, hope to low-income, homeless population

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On a typical Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, between 80 and 100 people file through the doors of 38 W. Greenwood Ave. in the Short North.

They are greeted with “Hope” painted in bold black letters on the building’s white brick walls. After a brief devotional lesson in the Rock City Church auditorium, visitors make their way downstairs to a dining hall, where they are served a freshly cooked meal.

They’re in the Columbus Dream Center, a volunteer-driven organization working to combat hunger, addiction, poverty and other issues affecting Columbus’ low-income and homeless populations. The center shares a space and works in close partnership with Rock City Church, a nondenominational Christian church with locations in Westerville and Hilliard, in addition to the Short North location.

“I love the heart of what the Dream Center is about,” said Abi Marrah, the center’s operations coordinator. “It’s not just about meeting physical needs, but about sharing hope.”

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First opened in 2015, the Columbus Dream Center offers a range of free services to the population it serves, including meal nights, shower and laundry services, and health and wellness services through the Mount Carmel Health Mobile Medical Outreach.

The Columbus Dream Center is a part of a network of 76 centers in 28 states, Washington D.C., and nine other countries, with the original Dream Center based in Los Angeles.

The Columbus center operates with four staff members and a volunteer network of more than 1,000 people, said Cris Gordon, the center’s chief advancement officer. The volunteers largely come from partnerships with more than 50 local businesses and churches, which also help power the center financially.

“Our volunteers work constantly and consistently,” Gordon said. “If we don’t have that, we can’t get things done.”

Through the services provided, the Columbus Dream Center works to fill gaps that other nonprofit groups weren’t previously providing, said Nate Eckhart, the outreach pastor at Rock City Church. That was the inspiration behind the center’s shower and laundry service, where visitors can sign up for an appointment and have their clothes washed while they wash themselves.

A lack of disposable income to pay for laundry and soap can present a barrier to people seeking employment, Eckhart said.

“Let’s say a guy was working and he lost his job, he gets evicted from his apartment,” Eckhart said. “The laundry and shower days help people clean up so they can go to a job interview not in dirty clothes.”

More than 80 volunteers from the Columbus Dream Center will take to the streets on Saturday for Serve Day, where churches worldwide serve their local communities. Dream Center volunteers will focus their efforts on painting, cleaning and landscaping at four local schools: Weinland Park, Eastgate and Ohio Avenue elementary schools, and Wedgewood Middle School.

Through Serve Day and other programming, the Dream Center strives to be a “hub of hope in Columbus,” Marrah said.

“We try to show people they are worthy of dignity, respect and value,” Marrah said. “And we’re seeing people begin to dream again, being able to have confidence again.”

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