“I just want to help everybody.” That one phrase uttered by Brandan Thomas contains volumes of passion that simply can’t be expressed through the written word. Thomas, founder and pastor of Canvas Church and executive director of the Winchester Rescue Mission, helps a tremendous amount of people through these two roles.
“I say this all the time, if it wasn’t for God’s grace I would be with the guys at the mission. He’s given me a different opportunity and I want to be able to give them a different opportunity,” he said of the homeless men and women he serves.
A pastor since he was 19, Thomas said one of his longtime goals was to start a church. Canvas Church began in 2013 in a garage with only a handful of people and has since grown to 200-plus in attendance at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School.
“I wanted to start a church for people who were all kinds of messed up,” he said.
“Before it became popular, we used the term ‘me too’ on a regular basis. I would say from the stage, ‘I’m messed up’ and you’d hear back from the congregation ‘me too,’ and that kind of became our theme.”
He shared the story of how he pulled an older gentlemen aside after church one day to ask him why did he start attending Canvas. The man replied that he used to go to another church, and had been going through a rough time and was contemplating suicide. He didn’t feel he could share that with anyone at his former church. At Thomas’ church, he felt he could.
“It’s ok to come and say I’m struggling with this… but here it’s, oh really? Me too. I’m glad you were honest about that, because I’m struggling to and I want help with that,” said Thomas.
The church has given back to the community in many ways. Thomas said that on day one, members of the church built a deck at The Laurel Center’s former location.
”We were able to give a significant amount of money towards opening a women’s shelter. I was eating lunch with my son at his school and I was thinking about all the kids that were at the school and what their lunch tab would be if they didn’t have money, so we got the bright idea to pay the lunch tab for every kid at Virginia Avenue to pay all of that off."
We were able to purchase a whole bunch of toys for kids at Winchester Public Schools that didn’t have Christmas, we were able to help take care of that, it was probably five or six thousand dollars of toys that was purchased.”
At the Winchester Rescue Mission, Thomas implemented a case management program where they work one-on-one with each person to help find solutions through local organizations like Literacy Volunteers, St. Claire’s, the Free Medical Clinic, WATTS, the Salvation Army, NW Works, among others.
The Mission recently opened a women’s shelter with four beds, which is already full. Thomas hopes to soon add another women’s shelter.
On frigid nights, you may find him driving around to homeless camps around the city, handing out blankets and inviting them to come to the Rescue Mission.
“I have to earn their trust to get them to come into the Mission. So the way we earn their trust is we go to them on their turf and we let them know they are cared about, they matter, and that they deserve a whole different lifestyle than what is currently open to them.
“I really have this goal: I don’t want to just put a Band-aid on homelessness, I want to see it ended. The way it’s ended is a very holistic approach of helping individuals get the services they need to get out of the situation they’re in,” he said.
Special thanks to mcKee’s, the men’s store at Kimberly’s, for providing attire for Brandan. He is wearing a Crittenden light pink sportcoat, Gordon of New Orleans button down shirt, R. Hanauer pocket square, Berle tan lightweight wool trouser, Johnston & Murphy brown tan loafers with linen detail, Johnston & Murphy belt.