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An Emotional Meeting with a Homeless Baby

Baby photo for blogToday was my first day as MUST Ministries’ newest marketing intern. I came to the office expecting a day full of paperwork and other office duties, but little did I know, today would be the day that changed my heart forever.

I walked into quite a surprise. My supervisor, Kaye Cagle, decided to take me on my first tour of the MUST Ministries campus. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I had done extensive research on MUST, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see for myself.

The first stop on our tour was the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen. When I got out of the car, I noticed a line already forming on the deck of the building. Homeless men, women and children were withstanding the cold and windy weather just to get a bite to eat. As we approached the building, I began to feel the warmth. No, the weather didn’t drastically change. It was the people waiting in line and the gracious volunteers and staff that made all the difference. All with big smiles, they greeted us as we walked inside.

Church volunteers were busy at work, preparing the meals for lunch. After only a few minutes inside Loaves and Fishes, I could feel the sense of family. These people weren’t just clients, volunteers and staff. These people love and care for each other. I could feel God’s presence working in each and every heart.

What an honor to sit at a table with a mother and her eight-week-old baby girl. They were both living in homelessness. I normally get excited when I see a baby. Not this time. It felt like my heart had broken into a million pieces.

The mother told us her difficult story. As she was speaking, my eyes began to get misty. I couldn’t believe what this woman has gone through and that her precious baby girl was born into such suffering.

The woman surprised me with what she said next. She explained just how blessed she was because of MUST Ministries and its people. She was so incredibly happy that God has placed her right here – at MUST Ministries. I couldn’t help but smile through the tears.

As we left the dining room, Mrs. Cagle noticed that I seemed a little overwhelmed. I explained to her that it broke my heart to see so many people living in homelessness, starving and cold. My boss looked at me and said, “But thank God we are here for them. Where would they be without us?”

She was right. A person living in homelessness and poverty is a terrible and sad thing. But I thank our Lord that we have MUST Ministries here that can provide light in such a dark place.

My first day interning for MUST Ministries was an eye-opening experience. I witnessed homelessness and poverty. But I also witnessed God’s gracious heart working in each and every worker and volunteer.

I came home tonight and prayed for all the men, women and that eight-week-old baby girl living in homelessness. And then I thanked God for MUST Ministries.

I am a MUST Shepherd: Brant and Holly Suddath share their story

Brant and Holly Suddath are Smyrna residents and proud MUST Shepherds.

Brant and Holly Suddath are Smyrna residents and proud MUST Shepherds.

 

Every month we will feature MUST Shepherds who  are helping serve your neighbors in need through their gifts of time, talent and treasure.

 

How did you first get connected to MUST Ministries?

We first knew of MUST Ministries through the Gobble Jog and annual food drives at our children’s school. We were convicted to give regularly to local charities, MUST is a well-respected charity and a great starting point for us.

 

How/Why does the MUST mission motivate you?

We live in Smyrna, and we believe we can truly help MUST “serve our neighbors in need” because there is a Smyrna MUST location where we can serve our actual neighbors with our time in addition to financial contributions.

Why do you donate to MUST monthly/regularly?

We were led by our church pastor who helped us see if we have more than we need, we should be generous and willing to share; and we needed a giving plan so we are not only donating our left-overs. Setting up a monthly donation helped us make our giving plan a reality. Our church does not have it’s own extensive benevolence organization because it wants to support local charities who are already doing an extraordinary job of serving the community, and MUST Ministries seems to us to be a perfect example.

Do you have a personal experience that tells your MUST story best? (running in Gobble jog, volunteering at shelter, etc.)

 Holly has been volunteering in the Employment and Education services computer lab at MUST Smyrna since January 2013. At first she helped clients during open computer lab days, assisting with applying for jobs, updating resumes, and with general computer skills. In August, she began teaching a 4-hour “Back to Work” class to help MUST clients with job readiness, interviewing, and writing an excellent resume. The ability to assist MUST clients and work alongside other committed volunteers in the name of Christ is an inspiring and humbling experience.

GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!

A few short true stories that have happened at MUST Ministries to show how God is good… all the time!  by Carol Hunt

One of my favorite stories about the clothes rack involves two high school boys who’d been invited to their girlfriends’ proms.  They were brought in by their “Big Brother” because they couldn’t afford to buy suits or rent tuxedos.  One of the boys was of average build making it easy to find a good fitting suit.  The other, however, was a rather large football player who presented a challenge to the volunteers.  After searching through the MUST Ministries clothes on the racks, they found a burgundy sport coat, navy blue pants, white shirt and print tie.  He tried them on and looked terrific.  As he left he smiled and said, “You know, these are my girlfriend’s school colors!”  God is so good!

 

 

MUST Ministries blogSally had just interviewed a young man trying to raise two children by himself.  His wife had a drug problem and had left the home.  He had lost his job because of not being able to find childcare and feared losing his home.  As he was waiting for groceries, a young woman Sally knew came in.  She had recently begun to do childcare and was willing to take on his kids free of charge.  That’s all he needed to get them back on their feet again!

 

 

A large sized man came in to Smyrna MUST Ministries in need of business clothes for a new job.  As we were looking through bags, a young man came in to donate his father’s clothes to us—just the right size!

Waste Not

waste

Post written by Armida Silvani

We were eating lunch and making casual conversation when my husband’s friend noted how much food is thrown out at the grocery store where he works.  His observation reinforced my knowing how incredibly blessed we are in this country to have so much food we can actually throw part of it away.  Most of us do not worry about not having anything to eat. It’s no big deal if the lettuce in our refrigerator wilts or if we end up tossing that bit of food that we did not eat for dinner.  Many more of us, including me, dread the thought of having “left overs.”  When hungry, we open our refrigerator or our pantry and there in front of us is plenty of food to eat. The idea that our pantry could ever be empty or that we have eaten every bit of our left overs does not even cross our minds.  Yet, for many people, especially children, around the world, not to mention locally, hunger is a reality.  The question then becomes how do we move towards balancing the abundance and the lacking?

MUST Ministries is one nonprofit that does just that.  MUST Ministries is the place where donated goods and funds get distributed to those that see their pantries getting empty and do not have any other way of getting them filled.  Can you imagine a ton of food on a daily basis going  to feed needy families in areas of Cobb and Cherokee counties?  It is next to impossible, isn’t it, but, it happens, and it happens with your help. It happens because people share their abundance. If you don’t already donate, you can help. Why not give that extra $20 you found in your pocket, and did not even miss, or how about giving a portion of your groceries, or what you would have spent on dessert and coffee when out for dinner?   Think, your donation can be part of the ton of food going towards helping to feed others through MUST Ministries and not the part that goes to waste.

 

Meet Jerry

IMG_1582smHe is not a drug addict, nor an alcoholic. He is, in fact, a veteran who served in the Army then worked at the U.S. Postal Service. He even drove semi tractor trailer trucks for a while.  He’s a man with skills and despite living in homelessness is looking for work.  He has family somewhere up north of here. He is well spoken.

Jerry is like many of us who have held a job, have family and even served our country yet, he is also like the many that come to the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen for lunch during the week. The small dining room fills daily with individuals, like Jerry, who have fallen on hard times and the meal generously served may be their only meal of the day.  

Jerry allowed me to share a bit about his life and photo because he wants to let you know how much he appreciates your time and/or financial donations. He knows that the meals served at the Loaves and Fishes kitchen come from generous hands and hearts and he appreciates their assistance.  Jerry wants to say thank you for making it possible for him to take a warm shower, receive toiletries, for his “new” clothes, and for being able to use the computers to search for a job in the MUST computer lab.   He acknowledges that many of his friends found jobs using the computers at the Elizabeth Inn Campus and he looks forward to the time when he is once again back on his feet thanks in part to all the assistance from MUST Ministries and you.

If you have work for Jerry, or some of the others who are looking, contact [email protected]

 

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.