Photos by Ashley Chavez
The homeless woman sat on an empty bench with her bags.
Her name was Laura and she was at Venice Beach alone on Saturday morning. Bottles and Socks volunteer Darrell Warren offered her some socks and a snack, and then began a conversation with her. Warren asked if he could pray for her and Laura said that her family used to pray together but she is now all alone.
Laura said she was interested in attending Vintage Church, which partners with Bottles and Socks, and accepted an information card by the end of the prayer and short conversation with Warren.
“It’s not [about serving] the many,” Warren said, “it’s [about serving] the one.”
Darrell and his wife Regina Warren created the Venice Bottles and Socks ministry 10 years ago. The group of volunteers focuses on serving the Venice Beach boardwalk’s homeless community by meeting on the second Saturday of every month, according to the Vintage Church website. Each month of service includes both new and regular volunteers, Darrell said.
The volunteers walk up and down the boardwalk and offer a water bottle and pair of socks to members of the homeless community. This is a simple icebreaker which can lead to a more in-depth conversation, Darrell said.
These conversations, whether they include prayer or not, may be the only sincere ones that a homeless person partakes in all day, Regina said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask to pray for people and have conversations,” Darrell said. “This is a really raw ministry.”
Darrell and Regina created the ministry with their friends at Good Shepherd Church because they were looking for a way to serve the community, Regina said. They began by gathering once a month to pass out water bottles and socks to the homeless people gathered on the stretch of boardwalk on Venice Beach.
The offerings have since grown to include toiletries, t-shirts, sweatshirts, snacks and care packages, Regina said. There are also information cards with the Vintage Church locations and service times, as well as resources for help in finding housing and pet care.
The couple ended up moving to Vintage Church in Santa Monica seven years ago and the ministry continued to grow, Regina said.
“It started as a self-supported ministry and now the church has become involved,” Regina said.
Vintage Church has begun to give the ministry money to purchase their monthly supplies, as well as encourages donations from church members, Darrell said.
Bottles and Socks has been going on for so many years that the homeless community has begun to recognize the volunteers, Regina said. Sometimes a service day has to be skipped because of weather, but the community expresses how much they missed Darrell and Regina when they return the next month.
“This is such an easy way to talk to people, and the main goal is just to start a conversation,” Regina said.
Houston Bradley, a regular volunteer and member of Vintage Church, said he has learned how to read and assess the people he comes in contact with.
“Some [homeless] people just aren’t as receptive and you have to read them when you approach them,” Bradley said.
There are degrees of homelessness and some people are more receptive to the help and offering of prayer and conversation, Bradley said. Some people are recently homeless and looking for immediate help, while others may have been homeless for decades and are accustomed to their lifestyle, Bradley said.
The volunteers begin to see the same people every time. They notice when a homeless person is new to the area and begins to become a regular, Bradley said.
Darrell said he instructs all of the volunteers to simply listen to each homeless person talk and say what is on their mind. It is then encouraged to offer to pray for each individual and invite them to church if possible.
“Be open, have an open mind and allow the Holy Spirit to use you,” Darrell said. “Love on people that you generally wouldn’t love on.”
Bottles and Socks welcomes volunteers of all ages, whether they have prior experience connecting with the homeless or it is their first time, according to the website.
Twelve-year-old volunteer, Zayne Worth, said he has volunteered at other churches and schools in the past but enjoys this one the most.
“It’s the feeling you get when you’re walking around, like I’m actually doing something … and not just sitting at home doing nothing,” Worth said.
The boardwalk is long and crowded but the volunteers walk a large portion of it. There are many people to serve. Some are just as curious as Laura was, and others not so much. No matter the case, the volunteers will be back next month, Darrell said.
“These are some of the happiest homeless people you’ll ever meet,” Bradley said.
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