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.
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Gloria Brown is the kitchen manager for the City Union Mission Family Center, which provides long-term shelter for homeless families. One Saturday a month, Merrick and a group of volunteers bring food and prepare and serve a breakfast to the residents, who number as many as 120. Ms. Brown says that instead of having the residents line up and receive their food at the serving window, as is customary, Merrick puts out place mats, silverware, and a small vase of flowers on each table. She and her helpers then take the residents’ orders.Skip to next paragraph
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“They wait on them like they are in a restaurant,” Brown says. “She just likes to treat them with respect and let them know that somebody cares about them.”
“Marcia serves,” says Gary Blakeman, a retiree and volunteer who has worked with Merrick for seven years. “She doesn’t just dole out food. She actually serves the homeless. And she does what she does with love. She’s truly concerned with their welfare.”
Merrick says her work of providing care and hope for society’s disadvantaged began when she was in high school in Wichita, Kan. She made several church mission trips, one for an entire summer, where she first encountered large numbers of needy people.
“I realized what a difference it makes in how I felt, caring for other people,” she says. “I didn’t know it then, but I think I was developing a heart for people who had been shunted aside by society.”
Her charitable work took a back seat to her own family for a time. But 10 years ago, when her daughter was 15, Merrick felt the need to resume her caring activities. At first, she matched up friends and acquaintances who had items they were willing to give away with people in need. The recipients were not just the homeless, but also victims of domestic violence, the unemployed, the recently divorced – pretty much anyone she knew of who had a need.
“It kind of snowballed from there,” she says. In 2001, as her activity increased and donors asked for tax write-offs, she started a nonprofit, Reaching Out Inc. Today, about 80 percent of her work is for the homeless.
Her organization works with an area church, which provides her with storage space for food, furniture, and supplies. An ever-changing roster of volunteers – school groups, church groups, friends, and acquaintances – help with decorating the bags, putting together hygiene bags (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, clean pair of socks, and the like), baking cookies, and organizing food and clothing drives. Occasionally, volunteers go out with her on her rounds.
Merrick herself gets by modestly on alimony and a small pension. Circumstances may compel her to return to the paid workforce sometime this summer, which would necessitate an adjustment to her current grueling volunteer schedule. Regardless of what the future holds, she says, she will continue to work on behalf of the homeless in one way or another.
“I truly believe we can make a difference in their lives, and I don’t want anybody to ever think that somebody doesn’t care,” she says. “They’re homeless, but they’re still human.”
To learn more about Marcia Merrick’s work, go to www.reachingoutinc.org