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Camp to Shelter

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Think about a rugged camping trip experience. Maybe it was in the mountains, fending off raccoons from eating the Cheezits while you slept. Or maybe it was the time you camped on a beach and couldn’t keep sand and mosquitoes out of your tent. Once you got tired of “roughing it,” you and your friends or family loaded up and headed home.

Yet the woods of Wilmington’s busy streets and neighborhoods are dotted with campouts that go on for years. Since October 1st, urban mission Vigilant Hope has been visiting homeless camp sites since the weather worsened with chilly temperatures. They bring packs of toiletries, facial tissue, lip balm, soap and the much-coveted clean, dry socks. Vigilant Hope founder Daniel Walters and urban missionary Jeremy Hardy visit “to check on [the people] and see if there’s any way we can share some hope. This is kind of exciting and a rare opportunity,” Walters said in a video the two shot before their first visit.

Vigilant Hope will hold a toiletry drive through Decemeber for the homeless men living around Wilmington. Tubs of toiletries can be dropped off at The Lord’s Church on the corner of Greenfield Street and Fifth Avenue.

After three visits, Hardy says he’s now being accepted and making progress. When he and his wife had their second child recently, he said the men in the camps said prayers for the new baby and even gave her a street name: C.G. A camper named Lee has become the mission’s ad hoc guide.

“The first time, Lee invited us for dinner in the camp,” Hardy said. “He made sandwiches, using his own food-stamp money, for everyone in the camp,” Hardy said. “We had coffee once a week with him, and he started volunteering with The Lord’s Church and their weekly feedings of the homeless.”

Their aim is to build enough trust and relationships with the homeless men living in five downtown Wilmington camps, so Vigilant Hope ministers can persuade them to leave the camps, get into a shelter and then into transitional housing.

“They don’t call it camping,” Hardy says. “They say, ‘This is my home.’ They have a frustration and even a hatred for some of the shelters. How do you overcome that? We need to help them realize they need to humble themselves and get into a shelter.”

Hardy admits it might be an uphill battle. Some of their life choices break the rules of shelters. “Many of them drink alcohol from 10 a.m. until they go to bed each day,” Hardy says. “It’s a lifestyle they have chosen. Some aren’t addicted to beer, but if they’re sitting around doing nothing, they drink out of boredom. They know where to go every night of the week for food.”

Hardy said the homeless men in the camps go to different church suppers except Saturdays and, ironically, Sundays. In the last six months, Lee told Hardy he has seen five of his friends come out of the woods and get into shelters. Lee wants that for himself eventually.

Vigilant Hope wants to finish a documentary about Wilmington’s homeless camps by the end of 2013. The aim is to “raise awareness, because it’s going to take the City of Wilmington, churches and the government to help them,” according to Hardy. “We’re going in there just to show them some love in Christ.”

For more details about the film, e-mail

In early January, the group of photographers created Wilmington Photographers Give Back and the fund-raiser Wilmington Clicks for Kids to raise money for Newtown, Connecticut, charities such as the Newtown Memorial Fund. The funds help families recover from the school shootings which happened almost a year ago.

Wilmington Clicks for Kids offered studio sessions for families in exchange for a donation. Parents picked which charity received their donations, and the photographers cut and mailed to the parents CDs of photos from the sessions.

In all, the first Clicks for Kids event raised $6,000 for Newtown organizations, according to organizer and wedding photographer Ray Baca. The group will hold its second Wilmington Clicks for Kids to donate money to Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina and the Brigade Boys and Girls Club. Sessions will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on November 23rd, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on December 3rd, at Baca Photography Studios, 27 N. Front Street. Any donations will be accepted.

Folks can register or volunteer by contacting Baca at (910) 297-6526 or via e-mail:

Amanda Greene is the editor of Wilmington Faith & Values at Do you have a volunteer opportunity to highlight? Email her at or call 910-520-3958.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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