LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Every Wednesday morning, while it’s still dark outside, Steve Hoffmann loads 100 bananas in his car and heads to Jericho Way Day Resource Center for the Homeless to start prepping for the breakfast crowd. He serves food alongside other volunteers until 8:30, and then begins serving Jericho Way’s clients in a different fashion — talking with people, assisting them with needs, and inviting them to his Bible study which begins promptly at 9:15.

After three years of watching him change lives along the way, his fellow volunteers nominated Hoffmann for a Community Service Award. The State of Arkansas chose him as an honoree, and he will receive his award on April 20.

Hoffmann first got the push to help out at Jericho Way after Sr. Elizabeth Greim, the center’s then-program director, came to his church seeking volunteers.  He and another parishioner, Shannon Callahan, initially agreed to come by about once a month.  They have been back once a week for three years.

“We weren’t sure how we’d be accepted, how we’d be able to mix in with everyone, because this is a different population…these are different people,” Hoffmann said. “But it didn’t take long for us to feel at home, and we’ve felt at home ever since.”

The two volunteers were then asked to conduct a Bible study class. Neither had any experience in leading a Bible study, and only a few people showed up. Someone suggested they serve snacks; word quickly spread and attendance climbed.

“Sr. Elizabeth used to call what we do here the ‘ministry of presence,'” he explained. “Maybe you’re not helping (the homeless clients) with legal affairs or with housing or with medical, but you’re there. Sometimes we can help. sometimes we can’t. But we can always listen and we can always talk to them.”

Through the weekly Bible study, Hoffmann has forged deep friendships with several of the people he’s met. They exchange phone numbers, email addresses, and as with most friendships, they step up to help one another. For more than 50 of those people at Jericho Way, that help has come in the form of permanent housing.

But when one of the first housing recipients Hoffmann knew moved his meager belongings into a completely empty apartment, it wasn’t long before he was back on the streets. When they watched that happen, Hoffmann and Callahan had an idea. They called two friends from their church, Holy Souls, and the group helped establish what today is called Settled Souls. The nonprofit organization collects donated furniture, kitchen supplies, food, and dozens of other items they call “Day One Needs.” Volunteer organizers Stephanie Byers, Lindsey Taggart, and others they have recruited load the items into a moving truck, then spend the day furnishing, stocking, and decorating each apartment.

“Now if you are homeless and you go through a housing program and you are housed tomorrow, next Thursday your house will be fully furnished at no cost to you,” Hoffmann explained.

Of the more than 50 people Settled Souls has moved into housing, only three have fallen back into homelessness, mainly due to addiction, Hoffmann said.

“You deal with the person God put in front of you that day, but you have to recognize that the person is going to fall, and you have to pick them up again. And they’re going to fall again. You can never say ‘I’m done with you.’ You can never give up. You have to keep helping.”