It’s 2:30 p.m., and the Faith Baptist Community Center and Church (FBCC) lunch is in its last hour. The menu today featured penne noodles with spaghetti sauce, salad, vegetable medley, fruit cups and lemonade. Staff have cleaned the tables, rearranged the chairs, and made sure all those who came hungry have been fed.
The community closet is open, it offers clothing and hygiene items at very affordable prices.
“I’ll take it!” says a young lady who happily pays 25 cents for a new belt.
Just down the hall, Pastor Michael Vanek is finishing up a food supply order with one of the church volunteers. “Get the dill relish!” she urges him as he checks the box and signs off on the order.
Pathway to service
Located at 2355 E. 55th St., FBCC has been serving Central and surrounding neighborhoods for 63 years, since 1960. Vanek became the full-time pastor in 2007.
Vanek tells the story of a single missionary who started in Hough organizing programs that focused on women and children. Even during the Hough riots of 1966, the building the missionary was operating in remained intact. She believed the residents protected her building during the riots because they knew how important it was to the community. Vanek said that event is one of many things that inspires his current work in Central.
Vanek spent his early years in corporate America, but a Parkinson’s diagnosis and burnout caused him to reflect on his life and decide what was most important to him. He is now doing work that he believes is directly helping the Central community and that he finds spiritually fulfilling.
“I’ve worked for private companies and government entities. In those spaces, you have to produce so much, you are always under some kind of deadline. I can be free in this space, and I can do things on my own time. I love that.” Vanek said.
The FBCC currently provides:
- Church services
- Meal program
- Clothing store
- Eye clinic
- Medical services
- Pregnancy services
- Parenting classes
- Computer classes
- Jobs for Life program
- Addiction classes
- Men’s programs
- Women’s programs
- Child and teen programs
- Life coaching
Residents who need medical services do not need insurance. All services are free. “We have a medical doctor on staff who is a surgeon. My wife is also an RN,” Vanek said, adding that no one will be turned away because they cannot afford services.
“We see a lot of people with diabetes, hypertension ,” he said. “We do very minor surgical procedures as well, emphasis on minor!”
Hope for the future in Central
Pastor Vanek recognizes the challenges that have come along with this work. Mental health challenges, substance abuse, and increased violence have affected the communities the center serves.
“My background is in social work, so I’ve seen a lot through the years. We are dealing with more mental health and substance abuse cases than I have ever experienced before. On top of that, people are spiritually lost.” Vanek said. “Poor mental health leads to substance abuse, and at that point it becomes a cycle.”
Despite the challenges, Vanek has no plans to slow down anytime soon. “I love people. That’s my favorite part about doing this work,” Vanek said. “We came in as white people in a predominantly Black neighborhood. It took us a long time to earn the trust of the people here. We’ve been here for 20 years now, and I think they realize we are here to stay.”
With a church motto that says “Not just help, but hope,” Vanek leaves Signal Cleveland with a message of inspiration to share. “We are all one people despite our many differences. We have to unify ourselves and the gospel message. When we do that, better days will come.”
If you are interested in learning more information about any of the services mentioned, contact 216-881-8816 or visit the church’s website at www.freehope.org