THE BALTIMORE Rescue Mission started with the death of a black man on the streets of Baltimore in February, 1956. He died of the cold. At the time, the Christian community was sending missionaries to Africa and reserving overnight shelter in Baltimore for whites. It was the era of segregation.
John Ehlers, a Christian businessman, saw something wrong with this picture. He got together with two others and opened a one-room storefront on Pennsylvania Avenue.
They collected food and clothing. In that one room they cooked, fed, gave the Gospel, then folded up the chairs and slept on
newspapers. They distributed clothing from the
basement, which had a dirt floor. This continued for six years.
As the mission grew, its founders contacted Raleigh Holt, from Detroit Rescue, and asked him to come as interim director until someone permanent could be found. Holt stayed for 31 years, for much of that time the only white man on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Today the mission is a few blocks east of the central post office in Jonestown, one of the three original towns incorporated here in the 17th century. The mission is interdenominational. The board of directors includes members of the Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist and other churches. Last year an activist priest, the Rev. Richard Lawrence of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church, helped influence the local community and its organizations to enable the mission to obtain a permit to add a women's shelter to the men's shelter on Central Avenue.
But one night last November the 100-year-old tenement the mission had purchased for $8,000 collapsed in a pile of rubble and dust. It had been built without foundations, and the lime and mortar had deteriorated. A man who had crawled into the building was trapped for five hours, but he had not even a broken bone.
Going forward of faith, the mission took out its savings and started from scratch. In the past nine months a new, four-story building has been two-thirds finished. Contractors have donated materials and labor, saving thousands of dollars.
Seven hundred women and children were turned away from the mission last year. As a Christian organization, it does not take government aid as a matter of principle -- and to keep it free of red tape.
If the mission can raise $30,000 to finish two of the four floors, it will have room for 50 women and children before the cold weather sets in. Another $30,000 will finish the shelter, providing a warm place for 100 women and children. If you can help, you will be extending a hand to people less fortunate. You will also be giving hope to Baltimoreans, whether or not they are
homeless, that good will can perform miracles.
Sue Priest is a Baltimore writer. The address of the Baltimore 1/2 Rescue Mission is 4 Central Ave., Baltimore 21202.