Packing 400 lunches - and love - to serve the homeless
Kansas City's 'mother of the streets' rises at 4:30 each morning, packs 400 decorated bags, and then seeks out the homeless.
Kansas City, Mo.
For years, Marcia Merrick began her day making lunches for her two children. Her kids are grown up now, but Ms. Merrick still makes lunches every morning – 400 of them. Each decorated paper bag contains a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich or a bean burrito, chips, fruit, and two homemade cookies. She also includes a note of encouragement – and then distributes them to the homeless of Kansas City, Mo.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Dubbed the “mother of the streets,” Merrick starts every day (Christmas and other holidays included) at 4:30 a.m. so she can finish her preparations and make the 15-minute drive to downtown Kansas City by 6 a.m., the time when most homeless shelters close and their overnight guests are turned out. She also makes stops at homeless encampments tucked away in secluded spots around the fringes of the city, under bridges and highway overpasses, and along the banks of the Missouri River.
Each day is a little different. She gives out half of the 400 lunches in the morning and the rest during a similar afternoon run, before the shelters open again at 4 p.m. The time in between is taken up with other tasks, such as driving someone to a social services office or to court or a health clinic. She also gives away items like clothing and bedding based on individual needs. In addition, Merrick and the volunteers who work with her help some 370 homeless families a year.
Merrick doesn’t just feed and clothe the homeless. She talks with them, learns their names, listens to their stories, and gives them hugs and encouraging words. As a result, she’s well known on the streets of Kansas City and has the trust of many of the city’s homeless.
“Really, the food and clothing I give them is just a way to get into their hearts,” she says. “A lot of them want to change, but they don’t have ... the knowledge and the emotional support to do that. Some have been on the streets so long they don’t even know where to start.”
What keeps her going, she says, is the success she has had in helping destitute individuals and families turn their lives around.
Kim and Wayne Hill are one such case. The self-employed house painters found their work all but evaporated when the economy began to sour a few years ago. In time they lost their house and found themselves living with their young son in a family shelter.
That’s where they met Merrick. She was able to do many things to help them reclaim a normal life, including helping Mr. Hill receive much needed dental work. She even found painting jobs for the couple.
“I can’t begin to tell you everything Marcia did for us,” says Mrs. Hill, whose family now lives in an apartment in a large complex, where her husband is the staff painter. “She’s so compassionate. She’s good at finding that place in your heart that’s lacking – any heartache or sadness – and then filling that void. She’s the ultimate mother.”
Merrick works not only to meet the basic needs of the homeless, but to uphold their dignity and self-respect.