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Volunteer’s hobby brightens lives of homeless children

Between homeschool and vacation Bible school, Kathy Puder and her daughters, Jacalyn (23) and Sidney (13), have lots of experience with craft projects – and an abundance of supplies.

Kathy Puder EI crafts 170728 (1024x768)The Puder family knows the joy of using what they have to brighten the lives of struggling children.

Their pastor spoke to his church about the overwhelming challenges facing families in crisis who have found shelter at MUST’s Elizabeth Inn. The thought of those children stirred Kathy’s heart.

“We had a lot of craft supplies, and my daughters and I had been talking about ways to use them outside of our home,” Kathy said.

On Friday evenings once a month, Kathy and her daughters join another MUST volunteer, Jennifer Vece, in welcoming about a dozen children whose mothers are attending a workshop at the Elizabeth Inn. They hand out supplies and show the kids how to turn popsicle sticks and rubber bands into catapults. Soon the boys are shouting in delight as they launch fluff balls across the room.

“When a little girl climbs up on your lap and gives you a hug, it renews your spirit,” Kathy says. “I want my girls to know the blessing of reaching out like this.” Most families have hobbies and pastimes that could be shared to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors in need, Kathy adds.

“If you have the ability to do something, share it with others,” she says. “When you see the need, you can just step up to meet it.”

To discover ways you can help, visit

We’re all better when kids aren’t hungry

A hungry child can’t learn – and if kids don’t learn, the entire community suffers.

Volunteer Pam Graham helped develop the school food pantry program.

Volunteer Pam Graham helped develop the school food pantry program.

But if you feed the child, the cycle of poverty can be broken.

Such a simple idea, but Pam Graham’s heart lit up when the founder of MUST Ministries’ Save It Forward first shared it with her. Newly retired after 26 years with Delta Airlines and recently widowed, Pam poured herself into the challenge of getting Save It Forward up and running.

“We knew the need was enormous,” explains Pam, a longtime Atlanta resident and grandmother of seven. “One in four Georgia children don’t get enough to eat, and nearly half of all children in the state live in low-income households.” She also knew they had a great idea: Collect grocery coupons and send volunteers out shopping. Gather the donated food into a warehouse and then distribute it to schools, where students and their families can receive it discreetly.

Not only do better-fed students learn more in school, but also “coupon shopping provides children with the same snacks all of their classmates are eating,” Pam says. “If you have no snacks and you’re getting them out of a basket the teacher has in the classroom, it creates a stigma. There’s a whole lot going on, more than just the food.”

The Save It Forward idea caught fire with families, organizations, churches, businesses – and schools. Soon Pam found herself inundated with clipping coupons, compiling grocery lists, shopping, sorting donations and distributing to an ever-growing number of school food pantries.

“As the program expanded, I couldn’t do all of that, so I backed off from front-line things and started working at the warehouse more,” Pam explains. When Save It Forward merged with MUST in 2015, a new horizon of opportunity opened up.

Pam particularly appreciates the MUST volunteers who have come alongside to help. “It’s a very labor-intensive program. We do a lot of laborious chores with the packing and distributions to the schools where the food is picked up. It requires a lot of volunteers to do the work,” she says. “It was really nice to see they have the same heart for the program that we had when it all began. It’s very touching to think that other people can see the benefit of it and have the same drive to make sure it continues.”

Save It Forward distributed 246,830 pounds of food and toiletries through 24 schools in 2016. To learn how you can help, please visit



Publix donates $51,000 to MUST’s community services

More than $51,000 is making its way to families in need, thanks to a donation by Publix Super Markets and the Food For All Campaign. Publix representatives presented MUST Ministries with a $26,413.73 check for MUST’s work in Cherokee County (photo) and another check for $25,000 for work in Cobb County.

Publix 51k 170628Publix Super Markets raised a total of $1.4 million in its Food For All Campaign in December 2016, which allowed Publix customers and associates to purchase $1, $3 or $5 donation coupons during checkout. Those proceeds were distributed to 60 nonprofit organizations in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

Brenda Reid, Publix media and community relations manager said, “Thanks to the generosity of our customers and the enthusiasm of our associates the campaign is helping to make a difference in the lives of so many in the communities we serve.”

With 1,145 stores in six states, Publix has been named one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” for 20 consecutive years. The Food For All campaign focuses on the fight against hunger.

You can join Publix and make a difference for your neighbors in need by clicking here to donate.

‘To have someone who actually cares …’

Ayesha Barker blog 170628Ayesha Barker and her family moved to Atlanta in search of a better life. A relative took them in while they looked for jobs, but the relative suddenly had to move – and Ayesha’s family found themselves sleeping in their car.

Providence led them to MUST Ministries, where they found emergency shelter at the Elizabeth Inn. MUST’s Employment Services staff helped Ayesha’s fiancé find a factory job, and the family was able to get an apartment of their own. Before long, Ayesha also found a job.

Now she looks or every opportunity to give back. Her co-workers in a Home Depot call center collect food and pack bags for MUST’s Summer Lunch program, which provides a nutritious lunch every weekday during summer school break for more than 6,000 children – including Ayesha’s own son. She also has launched a youth program in her neighborhood to teach life skills to girls ages 10-18 because she knows how much difference it makes to know someone cares about you.

“Behind closed doors, there’s a lot of things you struggle with,” she says. “To have someone who actually cares what goes on, that’s really important.”

You can make a life-changing difference for families like Ayesha’s by making a donation or volunteering your time.

‘I just wanted to take care of myself’

Desmond WestDesmond West had always pulled his own weight. Tall and barrel-chested, the burly North Carolina native drove a truck and ran his own carpet cleaning business.

But shortly after moving to Atlanta in 2008, Desmond’s strength began failing him. It started taking him a long time to finish jobs. His vision was getting blurry and the quality of his work decreased. He began losing contracting jobs and had to start living out of his van. Then his vision dramatically worsened and Desmond knew he had to get help.

That’s when he found MUST Ministries. A bed was available at the Elizabeth Inn Shelter and MUST got him to a doctor who diagnosed his out-of-control diabetes and prescribed medication.

Yet Desmond needed something else. Because of his vision loss, he couldn’t go back to the work he knew, but he didn’t want to live on disability the rest of his life either.

An employment specialist at MUST helped him find a way forward.

“She discovered me,” Desmond says. “Whenever she saw me, she wanted to know how I was doing. She was always steering me in the right direction.”

The employment specialist helped Desmond get into MUST’s Permanent Supportive Housing, so he had a place to call his own. When he finished a training program for the visually impaired, he found a job in Atlanta and was able to move once again into his own apartment.

“It was all too good to be true,” Desmond recalls. “I was preparing for the worst. Living in a shelter was going to be my life. I just wanted to take care of myself. I wanted my independence back. I can’t envision where I would be if MUST wasn’t there in my time of need.

“We need organizations like MUST,” Desmond adds. “There are some of us out there who really want to make a change for the better. Circumstances have gotten us down and we just need a little bit of a helping hand, a little guidance to get us back on our feet.

“To all the people and organizations that support MUST, I say thank you. I’m a product of the seed you planted.”

You can change a life! Just donate today or sign up to volunteer in Employment Services at

HomeAid Atlanta plans work days at MUST Ministries’ homeless campus

The Elizabeth Inn Shelter at MUST Ministries is the newly selected charity to receive expert help from volunteer professionals in the building field. Thanks to the generosity of HomeAid Atlanta, who works in partnership with the building industry, qualified volunteers will tackle numerous projects on the campus next month, providing a significant gift to the non-profit.

HomeAid will partner with Community Associations Institute of Georgia (CAI) to complete the work at MUST.

“To have professionals come to MUST and offer their services and supplies is a tremendous blessing,” said Dr. Ike Reighard, President and CEO of MUST. “HomeAid Atlanta will complete many projects that need to be done to improve the homeless campus and they will do them well. What a blessing to our clients.”

Last year alone, the Elizabeth Inn campus housed 874 people in the shelter and provided 85,974 meals in the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen. In addition, the cold weather shelter, the warming center, employment services and outreach to the homeless are located on this campus, one of 13 locations operated by MUST that serve 30,000 people a year.

“We hear quite a bit about MUST Ministries,” said Jean Hilyard, Director of Engagement at HomeAid Atlanta. “They have a good reputation and we wanted to connect,” she said. “We have the same goals – to help the homeless – so we will be on their campus May 12 and 19 for our Care Day effort.”

The group will be doing pressure washing and other prep work first, followed by building a 12’ custom shelving unit for the Employment Services Classroom on the homeless campus. Also on the task list are painting, a handicapped ramp rebuild, sprucing up decks and ramps on every building and a bathroom upgrade. CAI and partners are also installing a large, interactive children’s artwork areaon the concrete near the children’s playground.

One of the biggest tasks is fixing the large parking lot pavement. From painting doors to replacing old facia boards, the team will tackle an extensive “To Do List”. About 580 CAI of Georgia volunteers are expected to help and will also serve lunch at the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen on campus.

“It’s quite an undertaking, but it’s so nice to work with an outreach like MUST that serves so many types of people,” Hilyard said. MUST helps about 30,000 people a year and 80 percent of them are women and children. Most of the clients live in Cherokee and Cobb.

HomeAid, organized in 2001, works in partnership with the building industry, as well as community building organizations, to assist people experiencing homelessness, so it’s a perfect fit with MUST Ministries, Dr. Reighard said. “We are so grateful.”

Hilyard explained it this way, “We want to help people who help so many. And MUST does that well.”

MUST takes leadership role in homeless housing challenge

shelter challengeFollowing the “Shelter Challenge,” a statewide initiative to place as many homeless families and individuals as possible in permanent housing, MUST Ministries is taking an ambitious approach. “We plan to house 90 people in 90 days,” said Program VP Rachel Castillo.

MUST is part of a 19-organization collaborative learning initiative led by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The group anticipates promising results as they focus on making shelters more accessible and helping those clients quickly obtain stable housing. The target dates for the challenge are March 15 – June 12.

“For 46 years, MUST has focused on helping our neighbors in poverty. Our vast experience has taught us the significant value of stable housing. Last year, we provided 78,486 safe nights of rest to those in need. Through our Elizabeth Inn Shelter, Permanent Supportive Housing, Veteran’s Housing, Tenant Based Rental Assistance and other programs, MUST is already helping 1,222 a year,” Castillo explained.

But with the current crisis in housing, more must be done, she said. 53,000 people in Georgia are homeless, according to Castillo. That’s why MUST is teaming up with affordable apartment complexes, private landlords and community partners so more people can get a second chance. The largest poverty-focused charity in the area, MUST is working every day to place guests from the 72-bed facility.

Of the almost 30,000 served by MUST annually, 1,500 are living in homelessness and thousands more are in acute financial distress, she said. “Many have been living below the poverty level for years and are on the verge of homelessness.

“Based on the media gross income for households and median rent in Cobb County from the U.S. Census Bureau, 47.73 percent of households who rent in Cobb are overburdened by rent costs. Many of the affordable housing complexes in Cobb have closed and addressing the affordable housing challenge has become critical,” Castillo continued.

“Forty percent of our clients are women and children,” Maurice Speaks, Elizabeth Inn Shelter manager, said, “so we have to work hard to find family housing that’s safe and affordable. Our area is very limited in that capacity, but we have recently negotiated to provide 10 more apartments for the disabled who have been chronically homeless and three of those will be for families.”

In a unique approach, MUST is asking community members to help provide home supplies for these clients. Clients who have little to nothing need linens, toiletries, cleaning kits and microwaves. Anyone who wants to help can drop these items off at the MUST Donation Center at 55 Chastain Road, Suite 110, Kennesaw, and mark them “90 in 90” so they can be given to families who finally have a home.

“If everyone works together, we can identify appropriate housing options and help people get started on their paths to stability, Castillo said, “The whole community can get behind this initiative to end homelessness in our area. This effort will change so many lives.

“We work at it every day, but this emphasis on housing will raise awareness and call people together to network in new ways. MUST wants to help as many people as possible and we look forward to the community support for what we hope to accomplish,” Castillo said. “We can all make our community better.”

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Tanya Hurt: ‘I’m not going to give up the fight’

Tanya HurtAfter the deaths of three family members, Tanya Hurt was trapped in the throes of depression.

She felt the Lord leading her to leave her hometown of Cincinnati and seek change. With no idea where they might end up, she and her husband loaded the youngest four of their eight children into their car, packed everything they could fit into a U-Haul and began driving south.

“I got on my hands and knees and asked the Lord to guide me,” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going.”

Hurt’s long journey down I-75 ended in Atlanta, but she didn’t find the change she had been hoping for. Instead she found was more pain: Her family was now homeless.

The Hurt family bounced from hotel to hotel, but eventually their money ran out. With no support system and no resources, they were out of options. The family’s only hope of having a roof over their heads was to find a family shelter.

Their search for refuge brought them to the Elizabeth Inn at MUST Ministries, the only local shelter that might be able to house a family as large as hers.

When she arrived, though, intake was closed for the day. She was too late. It seemed her hopes were dashed.

When Tanya came back early the next day to try again, she learned a family had just left the program and space was available for her and all her children. Had she come earlier or later than she did, there likely would not have room.

Hurt remained at the Elizabeth Inn for several weeks, slowly regaining stability while receiving the mental and emotional support she sorely needed. She learned that a better life was not only within her reach, but she held it in her hands.

“The staff showed me that I’m not supposed to depend on anybody to get where I need to be,” she said. “I must put more effort into myself to get myself out of my current situation.”

Hurt said she has a multitude of people at MUST to thank for how far she’s come, and that even today, she thinks of MUST as a friend she was able to go to when she had no one else.

“When I go to MUST, my face is recognized and I know I’m not alone,” she said.

Today, the Hurt family is back on its feet, regaining self-sufficiency. Her husband is employed at a local bakery, her children are in the process of becoming enrolled in school and the family has a place to call home.

Although her life is still a struggle at times, Hurt knows it’s worth it.

“I’m not going to give up the fight.”

‘Making a way for us when we see no way’

Schnyeder Destine

Schnyeder Destine, a former MUST client who now is CEO of Bexiam, talks about the difference MUST supporters made in  his life:

“MUST invested love and hope into me and my family, and because of that we are able to give back to others who need hope. But it was a journey to get here and MUST was part of my story. MUST gave us food, furniture, toys and hope. They treated us with dignity and compassion.

“When you give to MUST Ministries, you are helping thousands of children – just like I was – have a future. You’re allowing us to grow up and make our dreams come true. You are giving us a hand up, not a hand out. You are making a way for us when we see no way.”

Many of your neighbors see no way out of their difficulties. When you give them help through MUST, you also are giving them hope!

MUST partners with KSU to help students feed their children

Many college students face financial challenges, but some struggle with homelessness or have children they are unable to feed.

KSU food pantrySo MUST Ministries is partnering with Kennesaw State University’s Center for Campus Awareness, Resource and Empowerment (CARE) to provide food and toiletries to students in poverty with children to feed.

The CARE Center offers support to students who are struggling with homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless, students experiencing food insecurity and those previously or currently in foster care. Among many other services, the center operates two on-campus food pantries.

According to CARE Center director Marcy Stidum, in some cases, these students have more than just themselves to support. If a student is a parent and living in poverty, MUST will supply groceries and toiletries to the family through the child-focused MUST Save It Forward (SIF) program.

“If we ever hope to break the cycle of poverty, we have to eliminate barriers and empower people to succeed,” according to the SIF Team.

“The MUST Save It Forward mission is to eliminate the barrier of hunger so students have a greater opportunity to succeed in school and life. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with KSU, allowing us to now serve students in all levels of education from elementary school all the way through college.”

How to help: A simple gift of $12 a month feeds a family through SIF. Just go to and donate online to help.