Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church is known for feeding and serving Columbia’s homeless population.
Now the church needs help.
Two weeks ago, the church’s antique bell tower began to crumble. Bricks near the top of the tower toppled to the sidewalk, leaving a gaping hole, Pastor Brad Bryan said.
To fix it, the congregation faces two options: replace the missing bricks at a cost of $15,000, or completely reconstruct the tower for $40,000 to $50,000 — money the church doesn’t have.
The church board of trustees must make the decision based on cost and durability, but the cheaper option is problematic, Bryan said.
“The rest of the tower would still have 100-year-old brick,” he said. “It might not last through summer thunderstorms or another winter.”
Instead, he wants to go with the more expensive option — tear down the bell tower and reconstruct it so it would last much longer.
Built in 1916, the tower houses an antique brass bell from 1853 that the church cannot ring for fear of further damage.
Bryan, who has been with the church for six years, said the bell tower’s condition has worsened over time. He believes the recent winter weather may have caused the bricks to finally loosen and fall.
James Walters, church custodian, is afraid more bricks could fall and injure someone.
So, a church with a long history of helping others now needs assistance. For years, the church has been helping serve dinner to the homeless at Loaves & Fishes, a daily soup kitchen in the church basement
Bryan said that the kitchen provides 100 to 150 plates nearly every day — or 362 days a year. Dinner is served by volunteers from various organizations on a rotating basis.
Loaves & Fishes began operating out of the church in 2012 and was the first of the church’s community outreach programs. The church also houses a day center for the homeless called the Turning Point.
According to the Turning Point website, the church provides shower and laundry facilities, personal storage, a mailing center, internet access, a telephone and more.
“People come from all over the state — Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield — to use the services,” said Darren Morton, the director of Turning Point, “We have about 50 regulars, but we can get anywhere from 50 to 115 people a day.”
Turning Point is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. But, in times of emergency, particularly during bad weather, the center will stay open 24 hours, Morton said.
Both Loaves & Fishes and Turning Point will continue to operate, despite the tower damage. But, the threat of more damage looms over the church.
Donations for the tower can be made via the church website or by mailing a check to 702 Wilkes Blvd., Columbia, MO 65201.
“It’s going to mean a lot to a church that houses 60 to 70 people every Sunday,” Bryan said.