Community West Foundation’s Homeless Jesus Sculpture Goes Viral

St. Barnabas Priest-in-Charge, Alex Martin and Community West Foundation President and CEO Marty Uhle.

“We’ve shared our Homeless Jesus sculpture with at least a dozen churches and we have never received this much attention as a result,” commented Marty Uhle, President and CEO of Community West Foundation. He is referring to the dozens of news outlets in multiple countries reporting on someone calling the Bay Village police shortly after the statue was installed at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. Priest-in-Charge, Alex Martin, tweeted about the incident and within 24 hours he received over 110,000 likes and over 25,000 retweets. That is the moment when Homeless Jesus went viral.

Several local outlets covered the story including Cleveland Scene Magazine, WKYC Channel 3, News 5, Channel 19 and Cleveland.com, but it didn’t stop there. Stories popped up all over the country in New York, Seattle, Kansas City and more. CNN covered the story as well as news outlets in the United Kingdom and Sweden. Even Saturday Night Live mentioned the statue in their satirical Weekend News Update. News of Homeless Jesus traveled the world in just a matter of days.

In 2017, Community West Foundation purchased the Homeless Jesus sculpture as a visual representation of the Gospel passage in Matthew 25:40 – “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. Created by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, it depicts Jesus as a homeless person lying on a bench, shrouded in a blanket with wounds of the crucifixion on His feet. This symbolic work of art is one of a series of inspiring sculptures crafted by Schmalz.

“Our intention is to raise awareness of homelessness in our community,” said Uhle. Community West Foundation is one of the largest funders of programs for the homeless in Cuyahoga County. Every dollar raised through awareness efforts, including Homeless Jesus, goes toward helping the homeless in the greater Cleveland community.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless estimates there are 23,000 people experiencing homelessness in Cuyahoga County. Executive Director, Chris Knestrick, has fought the crusade of giving a voice to the homeless for years. He commented, “So many people are on the brink of homelessness. We need to raise awareness so more systems can be put in place to help them, not criminalize them.”

Rick and Linda Toth of Cleveland made a special trip to Bay Village to visit the Homeless Jesus sculpture placed at St. Barnabas Church.

Alex Martin of St. Barnabas fielded the flurry of media attention and quickly turned the focus to raising awareness and funding for the homeless. Within days of his tweet going viral, he has raised over $3,500. “I certainly was not expecting this type of attention, but, in the end, the purpose was to raise awareness. I’m just happy to see there is some good coming out of this with dollars raised and conversations being started,” Martin said.

This very powerful image of homelessness has traveled our community since October of 2018 giving inspiration to congregations and the public at many churches and one recovery home including:

  • Bay Presbyterian Church (Bay Village)
  • Bethany Lutheran Church (Parma)
  • Blessed Trinity Catholic Church (Cleveland)
  • First Congregational UCC Church (Elyria)
  • Grace Church (Middleburg Heights)
  • Messiah Lutheran Church (Fairview Park)
  • Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (Westlake)
  • Rocky River Presbyterian Church (Rocky River)
  • Rocky River United Methodist Church (Rocky River)
  • St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (Bay Village)
  • St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (Westlake)
  • The Edna House (Cleveland)
  • West Park United Church of Christ (Cleveland)

Community West Foundation is dedicated to supporting organizations that provide the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care in the greater Cleveland area. Originally known as the Fairview/Lutheran Foundation, Community West has been supporting these Cleveland Clinic hospitals as well as many community non-profit agencies through grantmaking since 1997. Under the guidance of the Board of Directors, Community West has grown its giving exponentially over the past 20 years. In 2019, Community West distributed $7M in grants.

There are many ways Community West Foundation offers philanthropic support to the community. These include:

  1. Granting funds to local non-profits that align with the Community West mission
  2. Providing funds to and organizing fundraising events for Fairview and Lutheran hospitals to support operations and programing
  3. Being the fiscal agent for other philanthropic agencies as well as individuals through Donor Advised Funds

The mission of Community West Foundation is to advance the health and well being of our community. The staff and Board of Directors are guided by the words in Matthew 25:35-40: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

For more information on Community West Foundation call 440-360-7370 or visit www.communitywestfoundation.org.

For more information on St. Barnabas Episcopal Church visit https://episcopalchurch.org/parish/st-barnabas-episcopal-church-bay-village-oh.

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