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Couponing a new way of helping

extremecouponTwo volunteers at Smyrna Program Services at MUST Ministries are creatively helping to feed those in need. Deb Chamblee and Stacey Brown became friends through volunteering at MUST Ministries.  Their three year volunteer experience has not only forged a friendship but they have also become great couponing buddies. “We really wanted to help people, so we started comparing and collecting coupons”

Deb explains that the idea to expand their help to MUST Ministries through couponing “started when I was in my grocery store and the cashier offered me coupons for free Chef Boyardee products” she further explains “I told her I don’t eat those meals and didn’t need the free Chef Boyardee products”.  The cashier noted, ‘But don’t you volunteer at MUST?’ I walked out of there with 27 free cans of food and realized I could really help. Now people bring us coupons and we each commit to spend $5 per week. People are amazed at how much we bring in.”

Aside from volunteering, the two couponer spend time looking intently for useful items they can get for little or no cost. They buy deodorant, cereal, peanut butter and other staples in the MUST food pantry. In December, Deb even found coupons for a free transformer toy, went to the store and then took the toys to the MUST Toy Shop.

“Our husbands grew up in this area,” Stacey explained, “and we want to help our community”  The bonus is that aside from helping the community Deb and Stacey have managed to cut their own grocery bills in half and encourage others to do the same. It’s a win-win for everyone. They learned that it doesn’t take a lot of effort or much money to make a big impact in someone else’s life.

For more information on how to get involved at MUST Ministries, go to www.ministries.org.  The charity for those living in poverty helps 34,000 people in eight counties. Almost half of those clients are children.

More or Less or Enough?

A blog post by Kaye Cagle

Today, I had a new thought. Sometimes an idea hits me so hard that I dwell on it and develop it in my brain. Oddly enough, it usually happens quickly. Then it spills out in my writing.

more or lessA book called “More or Less” written by Jeff Shinabarger focuses on something I understand but have never understood more clearly. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I watched his “More or Less” video and did not read the book, but I got the same result. )  When it comes to possessions, we live in one of three states: Excess, Enough, Suffering. I actually think that’s true of every area of our lives – love, friends, emotion, etc. But back to possessions.

Under my bed, I have two large storage boxes. One is for brown shoes and one is for black. Actually, I have so many black shoes, some are even in my closet floor, like my boots (flat and heeled) and evening shoes. My colored shoes are in there too. I have some cute dark red ones I wear occasionally, striped sandals, “real” cowboy boots that I love, athletic shoes I wear too seldom, a literal box of flip flops for the pool, and even a pair of saddle shoes for the occasional 50′s party.

The truth is I’m not even a “shoe hound”. Shoes aren’t that important to me, but I tend to hang on to them too long and they multiply. The irony is that I work at a place where people are desperate for shoes. At MUST Ministries, thousands of people come through our doors, hoping for that right pair of shoes for an interview or sending their teenagers to school. They need them. I have them. I don’t need them all. I live in excess.

Now let’s apply that to other things. The “More or Less” video talked about Jeff’s family needing to go to the grocery store because they were out of everything. They decided to try an experiment. What if they didn’t go? What if they just ate the food in the pantry and the freezer first? That lasted weeks. Good cost savings too. They THOUGHT they were suffering, but they were living in excess.

Speaking of cost savings, let’s talk about enough money. Why do we think we never have enough? Because when we get more, we want more, so we spend more. Someone once asked Rockefeller, “How much is enough?” and he replied, “A little bit more.” (Quote from the video.) Spoken like a true man of excess. It’s never good enough.

Why aren’t we giving more? True, MUST needs shoes and food and toiletries and sack lunches and blankets and…. the list goes on. But what MUST – and most charities – needs most is money. It takes a lot to help 34,000 people a year with employment services, housing, hot meals and case workers. When I give a pair of old shoes, am I really giving out of my excess? Or am I just cleaning out my closet and making myself feel better?

Can I sacrifice more for others? Can I forego a fast food lunch and take a peanut butter sandwich to work all week so 25 hungry children can have a sack lunch this summer? I’m not even sure THAT is giving out of excess, but it’s a start.

What’s enough is going to look different for you and me. I’m not going to judge your giving if you won’t judge mine. I’m just challenging us to look at what God has given us and ask ourselves the hard questions. Where do I live? If I live in excess, I need to share. I have to decide what is “enough” and that’s something I don’t often think about. If I’m suffering in an area, maybe I have to humble myself and ask for help.

Excess. Enough. Suffering. With our possessions, including money, where do we live? And where do we WANT to live? More importantly, what are we going to do about it?

MUST Makes a Difference

oshaA success story shared by Beth Ray

Bert is a 50-something male with a high school education, no felonies and no mental illness or addiction, but he couldn’t find work.  He had always worked labor jobs, but after his last job, the economy crashed.  He finally lost everything.  He had no where to go, and came to the Elizabeth Inn last year. 

With encouragement from the MUST team, he attended the 10-Hour Industrial Safety program, an alliance between MUST Ministries and OSHA.  He proudly received his OSHA certification and a new pair of safety shoes at the course completion. 

When his certification card arrived in the mail, he went to a recruitment event at an area food manufacturer.  Card in hand, Bert stood among the many seeking an opportunity for employment.  By chance, the recruiter came out and walked down the line, saw his OSHA card and pulled him from the line.  He was hired making minimum wage, but was thankful for the opportunity. Recently, a new food manufacturer opened in the area.  Bert applied, again OSHA card in hand.  He was hired this time making $12 per hour.  He has been there about a month, and was excited to come back to the Elizabeth Inn and share that he has now purchased a car! 

Bert says it is the OSHA card that gets the jobs for him.  While that may help, the OSHA card gives him confidence and a marketable skill that sets him apart. He also had the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that he may not have been able to provide for himself. Thanks to MUST Ministries and the donors who support it, Bert’s training certification and safety shoes helped launched a new, prosperous career. These life-changing stories are a meaningful part of the MUST legacy.

Giving With Purpose

expired food donated to MUST Ministries

Post written by Armida Silvani

What would you do…?  Imagine yourself so hungry that you would eat anything.  Would you eat that warm plate of expired chili or that 1000th serving of green beans?  How about a hot plate of mashed potatoes and gravy that’s so salty you can’t eat it because if you did your blood pressure will skyrocket?

Donations are a wonderful way of helping the community.  Some think giving is better than receiving.  It makes us feel good to help others.  Those on the receiving end are usually grateful that they are fed a warm meal, or can take food home four times a year to their families when their pantries are bare.  It’s a win/win situation that usually works out.

When it comes to giving almost anything goes. What happens; however, when donated items are expired or are the very foods that we do not want to feed for our own family? You can easily reply “beggars can’t be choosers” or “you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth” both may be true; yet, the question then becomes what is the purpose of our giving?  Is it because we are cleaning out our pantry or is it because we truly want to help?   It’s not that the person receiving the food is not grateful for our gift nor that they expect top brand goods or filet mignon.  When we are getting ready to donate, we should ask ourselves… are the donated items benefiting the recipient, are these items we would share with our own family?

Giving is a wonderful thing.  The generous spirit of our country is one of the things that has made us great. Giving  becomes even better, and even more meaningful, when we give with true purpose.  We give knowing the recipient will truly benefit from our gift.

When you think of MUST, do you think PSH?

When you hear the words “MUST Ministries”, more often than not, you get a vision of an emergency shelter or the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen.  What many people don’t realize is MUST also offers Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), a long-term housing program that serves individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness and also live with disabilities. The program is funded through HUD grants that cover housing costs and case management, and small amounts for resident transportation. MUST supplements the program’s budget, raising funds for costs not covered in the grant, such as household items, hygiene articles, cleaning supplies and medications for some. The program has a formal referral and application and interview process so it is determined if the program can meet the needs of a potential resident. Between Cobb and Cherokee counties, MUST serves approximately 70 individuals through the PSH  program including 18 beds specifically funded for veterans.

IMG_1203I had the pleasure of visiting one of the PSH locations last week.  Walt, a veteran with warm smile and welcoming “hello”, greeted us.  He has been with the program for several months and things are starting to come together in his life. Stephanie, the program’s director asked us to join her in her cramped office filled with the various items of daily living used by the residents as many of them have few financial resources. A few residents have mainstream benefits ($700) and food stamps ($135) monthly, but it is difficult to make ends meet without additional supportive assistance.

Once an individual is accepted into the PSH program, he/she works closely with a case manager to establish goals, connect with other services designed to enhance success, medical or mental health treatment and recovery programs. Case managers teach budgeting and daily living skills, assist in appointment management and connecting with employment or volunteer opportunities. Everyone is encouraged and supported to learn to make better choices and to strive for self-sufficiency. The approach is person-centered, acknowledging that each resident is an individual and must learn to make choices and take responsibility for those choices.

Stephanie’s commitment to the residents comes through as she shares her belief that the program MUST has designed is one of community building and family. You can hear the passion in her voice as she tells stories about residents who live in MUST’s PSH apartments. She describes them as “extraordinary individuals who have survived really hard lives and are now working towards a brighter future with the help of MUST.”  You can also hear the frustration as she explains the hurdles some residents face on a daily basis when trying to reach their goals.  For instance; in order to get your driver’s license or other recognized government-issued picture ID, you have to have your birth certificate.  In order to get your birth certificate, you have to have your driver’s license.  To order a copy of your birth certificate you have to go online.  To go online, you need a credit card to order and pay for your birth certificate.  SO – if you have limited financial resources – circle around and begin again. If you can’t get required ID, you can’t get services and if you can’t get services how do you lift yourself out of homelessness? In today’s society, identification is paramount; without it you can do nothing.

Other challenges that must be overcome are limited access to appropriate medical care (for those without financial resources it is difficult to obtain and if medication is prescribed, you may not have enough to purchase an expensive prescription drug).  Did you know that some medications that help an individual living with mental illness manage his/her symptoms costs $400 a month?

Food insecurity is also a problem.  Even at the highest-level ($200), food stamps work out to be around $6.50 a day in a 30-day month. Stephanie is hoping to collaborate with volunteers to create a community garden for the Cobb and Veterans’ programs. She hopes to find some compassionate, passionate gardeners who can help get the required materials and plants, as well as teach the residents how to grow and harvest their own fresh vegetables.

Transportation is another barrier.   Bus routes have limitations and mobility issues may discourage an individual or make it more difficult to carry groceries or other bulky or heavy items. A few male residents have bicycles that get used a great deal, but there are few resources when things need repairs.

There are plenty of success stories as well… not always the clapping and shouting kind of success, but the quiet, been waiting for that a really long time kind.  It could be an individual leaving the program to move to the next level of independence and self-sufficiency or a veteran who reconnects with family after years of being apart.  Most of the time it is the small things.  Perhaps finally, after months of working together, you get eye contact or twice someone was on time for case management that demonstrate positive effect this MUST program has on our communities.  Even the smallest successes make a difference here.

 

 

Stopping on a Dime

homeless man gives last dime to MUST Ministries

Story by Kaye Cagle

The hot dogs  chips and beans sat on my plate.  I wasn’t interested in the food because I was taking in the personalities sitting around the table… some quiet, some talkative, all polite and interested in why I was there. “I work here at MUST Ministries,” I told them.  ”I come to the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen every once in awhile to talk to the people we serve.” They looked at me, trying to read my face and see if there was an ulterior motive I wasn’t revealing. “No, something’s up,” one said. “Where’s the survey?”

“No survey. No notebook. No pen. I’m just here to listen,” I reassured them. “Every day, I work as part of a team trying to raise money to help this ministry carry on. Our little group has to raise $3.2 million – the rest of the budget comes from grants – to be sure we’re able to serve people who need us. We want to be sure you have someplace to eat, someplace to get clothing, someplace to help you find a job.”

The crowd around the table slowly let down their guard and took me in. “I can tell you really care,” said one man named James. “I can hear it in your voice.” My eyes glistened with tears. If he only knew the depth of the commitment of our MUST staff.

The group talked about their tent city. “We’re neighbors,” James stated. “We live right by the railroad track near your office.” He was bright and articulate. He told me his story. He had a great job that he loved, but was hurt and couldn’t return to his job. He wants to find something else he loves. In the meantime, MUST is taking care of him, providing a daily hot meal, clothes and encouragement. He’s grateful. He hopes MUST will put in a washer and dryer for those who live in the woods (we’re working on it) and he needs some new boxers and jeans. But he’s appreciative of all MUST does for him – and his friends.

“I have a quarter,” he said suddenly and stood up. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, but only had a dime. “This is all I have, but take it,” he said, literally thrusting his last dime toward my place across the table. I hesitated, feeling unworthy to take it and thinking he needed it more. “Put that toward your $3.2 million,” he said with a smile, “but don’t spend it all in one place.”

“I’m not going to spend it at all,” I told him, picking up the tiny coin and looking at it intently, knowing the meaning it held. “I’m going to leave it on my desk to remind me of who I serve and why I do what I do. This will inspire me.”

I was fighting tears again. I retold the story of the widow’s mite from Bible. She gave all she had and was blessed for it. James had done the same thing.

“You just gave me a higher percentage of your income than anyone else because you gave all you have,” I told him.

“The Lord loves a cheerful giver,” James reminded me.

Yes He does, James. Yes He does.

Eyes of the children

Story by Carol Hunt

I am challenged and enriched especially when I look into the eyes of the children I encounter daily.  Their spontaneous love leads me to discover compassion and hope.  Often, I read this prayer of hope.

“God of wonder, give us the eyes of children to respond with delight to the newness and freshness of each moment.”    

When I enter into their moments of joy and hope, I also enter with them into their poverty and pain.  Hope is waiting to be born in the unlikeliest places.

Down the road, I encounter clothes hung on wire fences creating a garden of color around the dirty, gray, windowless broken trailers.  At the door of one trailer, I found a note to me pasted on a glass jar filled with pennies.  Written in large letters, in pencil, the note read: ‘We saved pennies that we found on the streets to help you buy more food for Sarah’s family who lives in trailer lot 14.”  These children knew the pain of hunger.  A simple glass jar brimming with compassion.

Last month I enrolled a frightened sixth grader in yet another school, his third since November.  He came to our shelter with his addicted mother, having experienced in his short life, an environment filled with violence.  As we entered his grade to meet his new teacher and classmates, a boy walked across the room and reached to hug me.  I looked at his beautiful face and remembered that he too had one stood beside me four years earlier.  His words deeply affected me: “Don’t worry, Miss Carol, I remember how it feels, so I’ll be his best friend.”  In that classroom doorway, this child had fully experienced, expressed, and understood the word compassion.  In humble gratitude, this child reminded of all the moments our lives had intertwined, challenged me to remember these words: “Perfection does not consist of performing extraordinary actions, but rather performing extraordinarily well, the ordinary action of every day.”  Every ordinary action is an opportunity.  When we experience compassion, we are moved to love.

May we have the eyes of children as we embrace each new and fresh discovery.

Let us delight in the moment. 

Rainy Days & Mondays Get Me Down

It’s been raining four days now and this morning as I drove to my job at MUST, all I could think of were the people who have been displaced from their homes and are now living in the woods or on the streets in the cold and rain.  Do they have shelter?  How are they staying dry? What would I do if it were me?

Each time I take my dog for a walk, I bundle myself up in layers to make sure I not only stay dry, but also warm.  The weather has been unseasonably warm this year, but it has still been cold early in the morning and late at night.  I am still very grateful that I have someplace warm to come home to, and that I can get out of the inclement weather.  I thank God every morning and every night I have a comfortable bed with pillows and blankets and the ability to take a shower every day and use the toilet in the privacy of my own home.

Their stories may be similar, but they are also very unique.  Some may be due to substance abuse, but many are due to unemployment, illness, hospital bills, inability to adapt to society after being in a war, run-aways, abuse, the list goes on.   Many are college graduates, business owners, executives.  Many are families with small children who don’t understand what’s going on.  People who were once pillars of our community who have fallen on bad times and happen not to have family and friends to rely on for help.

You may say if they really wanted to make it, all they need to do is get a job.  I was just like you.  In order to get a job, you need a place to live.  In order to have a place to live you need money.   Do you remember how much money you needed when you first moved out and got a place of your own?  First and last months rent plus utilities.  Do you know how much bus fare is?

So, as you listen to the rain drumming on the roof, thankful you are inside reading this post instead of out getting wet, consider a gift to MUST as we collect items for the Point in Time census.  It’s because of your generosity we can provide the necessities and a little comfort to those in need.

Students Full of Compassion Make Empty Bowls

The students of A.L. Burruss Elementary hosted an “Empty Bowls” project to help MUST Ministries.  Martie Moore, the art teacher who is part of  the Special Area Interest Learning program (SAIL) wanted to do an Empty Bowls project for some time and thought this would be the perfect occasion to teach the students not only how to make bowls without using a potter’s wheel, but also to raise awareness and serve those in need.

The students who made the empty bowls researched charities at the local, national and international level.  Once they narrowed the search to two non-profits, they visited the MUST website where they watched the video recapping the last 40 years of MUST service to their neighbors in need.  Ms. Moore believes it was this video that was the deciding factor for the students to choose MUST as their charity to support.

The 14 students spanning grades 3 – 5 made 42 bowls for the fundraising event.  One child even saved his own money during the 6 week project so he could purchase one of the empty bowls for himself.   They sold 27 of the 42 empty bowls at  a school event raising, raising $135.

A big thanks goes out to those inspiring students for their efforts!

A Kitchen to Cook In

Story by Carol Hunt

A Kitchen to Cook In

Carl Sojourner is a man that loves to cook. His passion for southern classic cuisine was born in the Biloxi, Mississippi kitchen of his mother. He would sit and watch her prepare rich macaroni and cheese, yam soufflé, deliciously spicy Cajun rice and other comfort foods in her spotless kitchen. “I loved her food and realized that if anything ever happened to her, I would lose her food too,” says Carl. He knew then that he would have to learn to cook just like her so that he would never lose those wonderful memories. On Easter Sunday 2011, he shared the food of his childhood with more than 200 guests at the MUST Ministries Loaves and Fishes kitchen in Marietta.MUST Ministries cajun rice

 As a former guest of the Elizabeth Inn, Carl knows first-hand what it feels like to be homeless. A bad choice landed him in prison for a time, during which he lost his beloved mother. After his release, he found success as a cook in a restaurant in Roswell. Unfortunately, as the recent economy took its toll, he lost his job and eventually his apartment. Fortunately, Carl found MUST Ministries to give him the hope and support he needed to get back on his feet. “I enjoy the swinging door at MUST,” says Carl. “They give anyone a chance. As long as you put forth the effort, MUST will support you the whole way.”

A steady job allowed him to move into a housing program* and he is well on his way to having a kitchen of his own. He dreams of owning his own restaurant in the near future. He even has the name – Biloxi Street Café – where he will serve dishes inspired by his mother’s flair for flavor, along with his own special recipes.

MUST was there when Carl needed someplace to go. And for that he will be forever grateful. “Being involved in MUST is just being a part of what you believe,” attests Carl. “These are the walks and missions that Jesus Christ was called to do – so when you are called to serve in His name, how can you turn that down?”

*To find out more about the Elizabeth Inn emergency shelter, the housing program and the other wonderful programs offered by MUST Ministries, visit www.MUSTMinistries.org, or call (770) 427-9862. Your time, talents or resources are always welcome.