Food-truck ministry adds free showers at Ypsilanti Warming Center

Ann Arbor-based FedUp Ministries' WashUp program is offering a mobile shower facility with four full baths at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse Mondays through Thursdays.
Four days a week, unhoused people and others needing assistance can find a hot meal and a warm place to relax during the day at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse's Warming Center, 100 Market Place in Ypsilanti. Now, Ann Arbor-based FedUp Ministries' WashUp program is offering a mobile shower facility with four full baths at the Freighthouse Mondays through Thursdays.

"Everybody needs some meat in the belly and everybody needs to wash their butt, and FedUp Ministries is helping them with that," says Michael, a 70-year-old regular at the Warming Center who self-describes as homeless.

The Rev. Anna Taylor-McCants started FedUp Ministries in 2020 after her internship in Ypsilanti Township's Sugarbrook neighborhood ended. She was unable to find a local church that could employ her full-time, so she accepted a half-time call to Ann Arbor's Zion Lutheran Church and had to find a way to fill the rest of her time.
FedUp executive director Anna Taylor-McCants.
She'd seen great insecurity in Sugarbrook but also saw community members putting out tables of snacks to make sure neighborhood kids wouldn't go hungry. 

"This was a time when I saw the community can and does take care of itself. So, how does the church use its resources to uplift the work already being done?" she says. 

She wanted to work on food insecurity and knew another pastor with an idea for a food-truck ministry. And from there, the idea for FedUp was born.

From FedUp to WashUp

"We took the idea to the bishop's office, and they said, 'Okay, you've got 15 hours a week to do this ministry. Figure it out.'" Taylor-McCants says. 

She was ordained in January of 2021 and began searching for a food truck the next month. By that summer, FedUp Ministries was serving meals weekly at Liberty Plaza in Ann Arbor, where people experiencing homelessness often congregate. Meals are free, with no questions asked about anyone's economic status. FedUp MInistries has grown to serve meals at several locations around Washtenaw County, including the Warming Center at the Freighthouse.

Kate Holcomb and Tajalli Hodge with the WashUp Ministries mobile shower facility at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse.Adding a shower unit was a natural extension of the work FedUp was already doing. The showers are currently funded by mini-grants from Washtenaw County's Office of Community and Economic Development and Michigan Medicine.

WashUp Ministries intern Maddie Tong, a student pursuing her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Michigan, says she thinks the community caught onto the program quickly because FedUp was "rooted in the community."

"I think the community knew us because FedUp had been providing free meals here twice a week," she says. "It was nice to be able to say we're an extension of that, and people already know this organization."

The program is offered at no charge to anyone on a drop-in basis, though first-time clients are asked to fill out a demographic survey and provide feedback. Visitors are offered a bath towel, washcloth, bath mat, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and socks if needed. They can also take travel-sized toiletries with them.

So far, the program has been serving about 10 to 20 people a day. Taylor-McCants says all visitors staff surveyed were unhoused, except one person who had recently moved into an apartment where the hot water wasn't yet working.
FedUp Ministries' Board President Tajalli Hodge at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse.
The program is already proving popular. One comment on WashUp's user survey reads, "The shower was piping hot. I haven't had a hot shower like that since I don't know when. I'm like a brand new man."

Another respondent had special plans after his shower: "I'm getting ready to go and see my girlfriend, and I can't tell you how much it means to me to feel right and clean for her."

Currently, space, water, and electricity for the mobile washing van is courtesy of the city of Ypsilanti. Taylor-McCants calls the Warming Center and the city "great partners." WashUp staff plan to assess the program and make some adjustments in April.

What's next?

WashUp is just a small part of Taylor-McCants' ambitious vision for the future. Taylor-McCants and her board envision a fully mobile program with a "fleet" of trucks, adding a mobile laundry service to the ministry's existing program offerings.

She says many of these services are already available, from shelter and food at Ann Arbor's Delonis Center to showering at the Ann Arbor YMCA, but transportation can be a barrier, and showers at many shelters are "a limited resource," she says.

Taylor-McCants says she's trying to work out a partnership with a local Lutheran church to offer showers on weekends or at events. 

She's also hoping to rent out the shower trailer and food truck at various festivals to raise money for free services to the homeless back home. They're already booked for the Wild Goose Festival, a progressive Christian event in North Carolina.
Kate Holcomb and Tajalli Hodge with the WashUp Ministries mobile shower facility at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse.
Meanwhile, FedUp and WashUp are looking for a permanent home for their offices and hope to offer a pay-what-you-can sliding-scale cafe at that location.

Taylor-McCants says the two ministries are just part of the work FedUp is doing in collaboration with other community organizations like Delonis and the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council, which are working against food and housing inequities.

"We have two sacraments in the Lutheran Church, holy communion and baptism," Taylor-McCants says. "And these [ministries] have both elements: eating together and the cleansing waters to remind us that we are claimed and we are beloved and our dignity matters."

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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