By Joanna Turner

The Rev. Nathan Hill, pastor of University Christian Church (6800 Adelphi Road), has continued to directly support those in need throughout the pandemic.

(Left to right) On Thanksgiving, volunteers Denise Eggers, Kristin Sampson and Yihao Lin served hot meals at the Prince George’s Plaza Day Center, which is sponsored by Congregations United for Compassion and Empowerment.
Photo credit: Joanna Turner

The Prince George’s Plaza Day Center, located at the church, opened in October 2016 and provides meals, showers, laundry services, WiFi, legal services, social services and spiritual support on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The center is sponsored by Congregations United for Compassion and Empowerment, or CUCE (pronounced “cookie”), a nonprofit organization comprising a dozen area churches committed to “serving the homeless and those in economic need.” 

Marcia Mityga, a retired social worker who volunteers for the day center and serves on its board, said the center is modeled on a similar program in Howard County

Hill said the center follows Howard County’s no barrier model; “meaning that, all those that come to the center are not required to fill out government forms, etc. … We get to know you first, and then we ask, ‘How can we help you?’”

Hill explained that he got the idea for the center after seeing a man escorted out of the public library for removing his socks; the pastor thought his nearby church, empty during the week, should welcome this man and others like him. 

When asked why the center isn’t open on more days, center coordinator Donny Phillips said, “It’s a funding issue and a space issue, and [it’s] because I’m not available for more than two days a week.”

Hill said the center didn’t shut down during the pandemic. “We had to change our practices,” he noted. “We didn’t allow people inside the building. We didn’t do laundry or showers. We still did legal help as possible and continued to give out bag lunches, but never shut down totally.”

Hill said that the number of people who are being helped by the center has decreased, from more than 30 clients a day to about 20 clients, partially because the county-run Warm Nights Program — a hypothermia prevention center — has moved from churches into hotels. “People are in a different place because they’re in hotels elsewhere,” he commented.

Thanksgiving at the day center

This Thanksgiving, the Hyattsville Mennonite Church, joined by volunteers from Saint Jerome Catholic Church, supplied hot meals to the center.  

Herman Herbert stood out in the crowd of people who came into the center for a hot Thanksgiving meal. He sported a long gray ponytail, a leather jacket and a gold necklace. While enjoying his meal, Herbert recalled, “I used to go over to First United Methodist Church for meals, until they closed down. A friend told me about this place.” 

At the same table, a visitor asked William Boyd, an older Black man in a green military cap, what he was most thankful for. “I thank God for waking me up this morning!” he exclaimed.

A younger-looking Black man sat down near Herbert and Boyd’s table with a great big smile. Herbert and Boyd told the Hyattsville Life & Times that the new arrival, who was deaf, didn’t speak English. Our reporter discovered, though, that the guest, Jimmy Uwaleke, could write well in English. Uwaleke wrote that he was 59 years old and came to the U.S. from Nigeria. “Worship should be free. There’s no pressure here to come to church,” he wrote, when asked about the center.

Uwaleke confirmed that he knows Hill, noting that the pastor likes everyone equally. Most churches give food and clothing only to members, he penned. “Here, no membership needed!”

Mike Landon, who volunteers at the center, shared a portion of Proverbs 19:17: “He that gives to the poor, lends to the Lord.”

Outstanding needs

The center is seeking to partner with local organizations and businesses that can commit to providing warm meals. Monetary donations (congregationsunited.org/home/donate) help cover a variety of needs, including rental assistance, medical bills and transportation. 

“Every person’s situation is different,” said Hill.