Week 3, Day 6 : Kevin Nowlin in the Heart of Memphis

6:00am, amid winter making its final stand, is a frigid, dark and lonely time to be walking the streets of downtown Memphis. I had this idea, albeit nothing new under the sun, to spend a weekend downtown with nothing in my pockets other than my ID. What do you do when you have absolutely nothing? Where do you sleep? How do you eat? What does that experience feel like? Fortunately, I had friends advise me this was not safe and there were other ways to understand what it means to be homeless. I didn’t want to be “homeless” for the sake of some witty and brave social experiment, but because my heart hurt for people who lived on the street and I needed to feel what they felt. This was almost a year ago but the idea never really left my thoughts. Then an opportunity for a test run presented itself just before I was to start my Volunteer Odyssey. Everything was in place for my 7 day week except that Saturday’s NPO location had not yet been finalized. I mention the idea to Sarah Petschonek, the creative brain and driving force behind Volunteer Odyssey, and she loved it. Instead of a full weekend we decided that I could just be dropped off downtown in the wee hours of the morning and try to find two meals before I went home. That felt like a reasonable idea. So that was the plan and that’s what I did.

At 5:45am I find myself on my own at the corner of Union and Monroe with no clear plan or direction. All that was in my pocket was a cell phone and an ID. Most of the homeless folks have cell phones, so I have mine in case of emergency. I hadn’t eaten, showered, or combed my hair and I did not sleep much the night before, so I wore the “tired, exhausted, and disheveled” look well. I looked rough. The walk down Monroe toward the Mighty MS is invigorating and the fact that there is almost no sound brings a peace I haven’t felt in a while. There was freedom in knowing that I could essentially walk anywhere and do whatever I pleased. There was freedom in having my phone on silent and having a block of time where there wasn’t much to plan or organize mentally. I make my way through Court Square and plop down on a wet bench. There is a guy slumped over on a bench near me in what looks like an attempt to sleep. It has to be uncomfortable but it seems to be working for him. He never stirs as the waking sounds of morning slowly hum. I was hoping to meet some people here for conversation and take my mind off of the cold but I press on. Next stop is Confederate Park. It’s a scenic and tranquil spot to sit down and watch barges, or the occasional kayakers, roll on down the river; but, still there is minor activity. I see the Memphis Visitors Center down to the right and start trekking that way. I know that VCs often have free hot coffee and my plan is to score a cup. Of course, they don’t open until 7:00am and it’s now 6:45am, so I walk the path further north along what will soon be a Greenway. There’s a poster with renderings of what the Greenway will be and I think this will be a nice spot to hang out when you’re walking around with nothing to do. Free coffee is not an option at the VC so I decide to head south along Riverside Drive. Walking past Beale Street Landing and circling back by the University of Memphis Law School I gain some insight as to what I came down to discover… loneliness and boredom.

The sun is well up, although completely snuggled behind a gray blanket, and I make my way back to Confederate Park. The residents of downtown (those who obviously have an established address) are milling about. Some are running, walking, drinking coffee, and just enjoying the morning. Here I get another sense of what is means to live on the street… isolation. Because I did a fair job of looking like I was a nomad, people would not make eye contact or acknowledge my existence. Some people would even cross the street as to avoid walking directly past me. Occasionally, someone would offer the courtesy of a ‘good morning,’ but for the most part people did not engage me. I don’t say this to speak ill of our citizens, I say this to address the reality that we all have been a part of. Everyone has their philosophy on this type situation and we all struggle to make peace with ourselves even though we feel disappointed when we avoid people. It’s ok. Most of us can’t identify with that level of poverty and we don’t know what to say or how to help. None of us care for socially awkward situations.

This awareness just makes me love people even more, which brings me to someone who will now forever have a special place in my heart: David. At this point I was really in need of some interaction and advice on where I could find hot meal, although I already knew of one place for sure. As I head in the general direction of said meal, David asks me for some change. Even though I may look homeless to everyone else, David senses I’m an outsider and engages me in conversation. Thankfully I am able to honestly say that I don’t have any change, or at least not the kind that jingles. I tell him I’m just looking for something to eat and he immediately takes me under his wing. David walks me toward St. Mary’s, the direction I was headed in the first place, and advises that’s the place to be. People would be hanging out there, drinking coffee, until 9:00am when lunch is served. At St. Mary’s I shamelessly grab the last cup of coffee. In hindsight, I should have given it to someone else, but I didn’t. The mood at St. Mary’s is calm and soulful. There is gospel music playing over the speakers and people seem to be in good spirits. We wait around for soup and I listen to people talk about the Tigers (aka Cardiac Cats) and Grizzlies. There is more pride in the way they talk about Memphis than I hear from other Memphians. My soul rejoices! After soup I ask David if I can tag along while he makes the mornings’ rounds. He is more than happy to have a friend by his side and we head back to Confederate Park. David tells me his only plan for the morning is to sit on a bench at the park and just enjoy the morning. What a concept! He says the secret to lasting peace and fulfillment is just “letting go;” a concept that has taken him almost 65 years to understand. The remainder of the morning is filled with talk about David’s trials and tribulations. He was once a successful entrepreneur and had more money than he knew how to spend. But, after his father’s house burned down and his mother passed away life just took one unfair turn after another; some of it his doing, admittedly. David is quite a fisherman and his expertise is confirmed to me by the details I remember from fishing with my grandfather. We laugh until we almost cry as he tells me about this turtle he caught one time and how he was trying to make sure it didn’t bite his finger off. There is quite a bit of wisdom in the way he discusses a range of topics including local business, politics, and humanity. I feel overwhelming love for David. Not in the compassionate sense, but the kind you feel when you meet someone you instantly connect with and hope you remain friends with forever.

A friend of David’s walks over and they laugh and make plans for the day. I sense our time is coming to a close, so we hug and exchange ‘I love yous’ and part ways. I promised I’d catch up with him another time and intend to make good on that. It’s close to 11:00am, and though I wanted to hang out all day, I feel I’d had enough to shift my perspective. For now.

The “walkabouts” downtown have pride and are respectful of privacy; therefore, I opted to take only pictures of what you see below.

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Week 3, Day 5: Kevin Nowlin at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee

Ms. Gloria is a very precise person. She runs the food pantry at the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) and it’s a very tight ship. CCWTN is a nutritional food source from single persons to families of 8. All of the food that comes to the food pantry from the Mid-South Food Bank, which supplies food to over 300 organizations in the Memphis area, is carefully inspected for current dates and such. Then all of the food is organized accordingly so that the freshest food goes out first. Every morning Ms. Gloria comes in and checks the refrigerator and freezer temperatures to make sure the food has been properly preserved overnight. Then she takes inventory of the canned and packaged food stuffs to see what needs to be put to use that day. It’s rare to see people who take such pride in the details of their job. Ms. Gloria is also one of the most kind and gentle souls you’d ever meet and you would trust your life to her only after being acquainted a few minutes.
We start the morning by making “walkabout” sacks to hand out to individuals. These are for people who have no home and no kitchen appliances/utensils but still need a hearty meal. I’m impressed to see that the first items to stock in the sacks are Ensure Vitamin and Protein shakes. When I think about giving free meals away too often my mind leads me to believe that the only free food stuffs to give away are lower-quality, bare-bones survival food. Oh, was I sorely mistaken and I’m sure glad I didn’t say that out loud. As we finish the “walkabout” bags we continue on to filling larger orders and I’m still further astonished by the thought and care that goes into the work. My reference list tells me how to fill boxes for families ranging from 2 to 8 members who do have access to a kitchen. There are fruit, vegetable, carbohydrate, and protein minimums that MUST go into each box. Immediately I take to just grabbing whatever I can reach and start filling the boxes because I want to get things quickly as to impress Ms. Gloria and Judy (another generous volunteer who has now joined our efforts). “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I hear from across the room. I know that command all too well and I stop in my tracks. It’s unlikely that cry was intended for anyone else and I sense Ms. Gloria making her way over to me. “Mixing the same food from different vendors might make the meal taste weird. Would you want your food to taste weird?” I agree with her theory and I calmly start thinking a little more deeply about what I presumed to be an easy task. At the same time I’m given creative freedom as to what I stock. Ms. Gloria tells me to choose food that I would prefer and to stock those items when I’m in a stocking quandary. With that said, there will be quite a few people eating rich, pasta-based dishes this week. YUM!
Often I have posited myself in thought-based experiments where I have nothing. No home, no money, and no food. In my mind, I feel like I should just be grateful for anything I get (and we all should), but that’s not the philosophy at the CCWTN food pantry. I have learned a much needed respect for not just giving to people in need, but giving your best. I have also learned that it is ridiculous for me to look at the stocked shelves in my pantry and fridge and say to myself whiningly, “there’s nothing to eat!” I’m not alone; you know who you are.


What will tomorrow bring?


Proper documentation is key!


Getting to know my reference list.


Week 3, Day 3: Kevin Nowlin at Memphis Botanic Gardens

Polystichum achrostichoides. Say that 5 times as fast as you can. For the other 99% of us who have no clue how to decipher that conglomeration of letters, it simply means Christmas Fern. The Botanic Gardens (BG) is renowned for the rich and lush greenery that garnishes the land just off of Cherry Rd near Audobon Park. Being a big fan of gardening and all things botanical, naturally (pun intended), I was excited to give some of my time to a little “green thumbing.” My newfound partner in crime, John Cook, is with me again today. His experience at BG two weeks prior was so moving that he is now destined to become a farmer; or so he says. I kind of hope he does. We need more farmers. Maybe I’ll work as a hired hand on his farm someday.

We stroll into the gardening office, after somehow managing to guzzle 25oz of coffee in the short 3 miles from my house, ready to rock! We meet Manny, who has one of those larger-than-life personalities and after tidying up some of the morning’s details he gives us a tour of the grounds. Manny shows me an array of plants and flowers whose names I will never remember but whose beauty I won’t soon forget. When I reflect on my gardening experiences I mostly think of a tranquil and slow-paced setting (like the kind I do at home); however, after seeing all the work that has to be done at the BG in such a short window before springtime really hits is almost overwhelming. Luckily, it didn’t all have to be done that day. As Manny gets us settled into the workplace he tells us a little about his career in comedy, “the good ole days” as he refers to it and “short-lived.” Sadly, he wasn’t willing to give us any of the routine because there’s work to do and when it comes to gardening the right way, Manny is no joke. There is a precise manner in which we are to transplant the ferns and as he explains the necessity of the precision, it makes perfect sense. There is a natural and sensible order to transplanting, so I spend a little more time pruning than I probably should have out of fear of messing up a transplant. Then I remember that I came to play in some dirt and dirt don’t hurt.

The weather is perfectly warm under the greenhouse and the volunteers John and I are working with are full of lively conversation. We worked nearly an hour past our scheduled time because the work and the company were so pleasant. I have to remind myself that gardening days are not always like this and the crew at BG worked through a long, cold, and gray winter to arrive at a day like this. Either way, I would have enjoyed the work no matter what the weather was like. I suspect I will return to the Botanic Gardens. I need my botanical social life as much as I need the regular social life.


Everyday I be shuvelin!


Wisdom from an experienced gardener.


Classic Manny





Week 3, Day 2: Kevin Nowlin at SRVS

SRVS is one of those places when you walk in, you immediately feel the positive energy flowing.  While I was signing in at the front desk, and exchanging smiles with the employees passing by, I knew it was going to be a great day.  Cheryl greets me in the lobby and takes me on a tour of the facility.  The facility is under construction due to some flood damage that occurred a while back but it still looks great.  I see the modern classrooms that are adorned with current learning technology and I wave at many people I have never met before.  There is happiness and joy on the faces of EVERYONE I encounter.  Cheryl explains to me that SRVS has recently adopted a Montessori style curriculum to better engage and enrich the lives of their clients.  I think it’s a great plan and I will be excited to hear about the continued success of the curriculum.  Because of the flooding, the classrooms had to be cleared out so that new flooring could be laid and walls painted.  This is where my mission for the day comes in: to move the boxed up classrooms into an area where they can be unpacked and rearranged to go back into the classrooms.  Even though my work is mostly behind the scenes, I know it’s important, so I accept the mission.

Fortunately I won’t be alone in my work, I have Astrid and Allison keeping me company.  It’s instantly clear to me that they are both people with big hearts and a passion for working with the clients at SRVS.  I’m in good hands.  Another part of my day that I’m stoked about is seeing my good friend, Laura Tumminello.  Laura is a board member at SRVS and her son, Gabe, is a client.  I’ve wanted to hear more about her story with SRVS for quite a while and I knew today was that day.  As Laura puts it, “SRVS saved my son’s life!”  Since I could write a book on her story (and I probably should) I will sum it up this way: SRVS is a rare, full-service facility that has the capabilities to give the attention and augmentation to disabled adults that they deserve.  The story impacted me so deeply I could scarcely write about it the same day.  It made me realize how much I take for granted with my son.  Not anymore.

I made several new friends, laughed a lot and gave a few hugs.  I can’t wait to go back when the classrooms are finished and work on some art and music projects.  If you want to meet some of the greatest people in Memphis, spend a few hours at SRVS.

Hard at work reorganizing

Superheros at heart!

Kevin and Laura

Laura is truly an inspiring person!

King of the Hill

Restocking Shelves

Restocking the shelves.




Week 3, Day 1: Kevin Nowlin at MIFA

MIFA is one of those longstanding beacons of goodness in the Memphis area. It would be difficult to find a Memphian who hasn’t at least heard the name and it’s almost assured that those Memphians have passed the “hard-to-miss” building where Peabody Ave wriggles into Vance Ave. The weather is cold and gray with some rather ominous clouds lurking just over the Mississippi, but I’m “running on Dunkin” so, the world is right. I walk in to meet a tall, gentle natured and well-spoken man named Rick. He is expecting me and proceeds to give me a quick orientation of the task at hand. Did you know that MIFA employees show up at 3am to start preparing hot lunches for the delicate citizens that do not have the ability, one way or the other, to get them? This is some serious dedication. Rick identifies two coolers, and their contents, that will be traveling with me that day. They are filled with hot veggies, meat, milk, bread, and pudding… I was actually getting hungry just looking at it all. By this time, I’m getting a little antsy about where I’m going and the best way to reach the people I will be serving. I’m a logistics kind of guy; I NEED to know these things. Rick continues to impress me by handing over a line-item sheet that has names, addresses, cellular telephone numbers, succinct directions from one location to the next, and specifics on which food stuffs will be delivered at each location. MIFA could not make the process any simpler and this puts my mind at ease so I can keep my focus on service.

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And we’re off! John Cook, a veteran Odyssey volunteer, is my chauffeur for the day. Even with clear directions, some of the locations have hard to read street numbers, if any at all. Even though our first stop is down the street from MIFA, it takes us a solid 10 minutes to figure out where we are going. Knowing this is not the time for machismo; I get out and ask a sweet elderly woman for directions. She doesn’t seem to know where we are going but is certain we are in the vicinity. With a big grin on his face, John waves me back over to the car. Apparently, directions are useless if you don’t actually READ them. Needless to say, we realize the error of our ways and quickly make amends to our navigation. I’m invited into the first domicile. We exchange pleasantries and I ask if there is anything else I might be able to help with while I’m there. My invitation is politely declined but it is clear the woman is in pain and cannot get up. This is only the first stop and I just want to forego the rest of the route to stay and help her with routine tasks that we take for granted. At the next stop I walk around an apartment complex for a couple of minutes searching for the right number. As I’m handing the next person their meal I open the security door too far and accidentally unhinge the hydraulic that pulls the door shut (you know, the mechanism we put a penny or quarter in to hold the door open). The gentleman gives me the appropriate glance and I proceed to rectify the situation. I’m smiling, but inside I’m feeling the fluster that comes with maintaining composure while exerting great strength and precision as fresh caffeine courses my veins. The repair happens quicker than I expect but not as presently as I want. Graciously, I am sent on my way with an approving smile that can only come from years of experience and wisdom. The rest of the journey is placid. The genuine smiles and ‘thank yous’ make the whole experience worthwhile. The gratitude these people have for something that most of us acquire so readily is enlightening, to say the least. If you can spare at least one hour out of your week, you should. Meals on Wheels is a simple task, yet vital to so many people. MIFA has done a phenomenal job of implementing a timely delivery system that anyone can take part in.

Week 3, Day 7: Kevin Nowlin at Dorothy Day of Hospitality

Today was my final day of the Volunteer Odyssey. This week has afforded opportunities that I never would have had otherwise, and I’m a better person on many levels for it. I reflect on the week as I drive over to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) and I wonder how I will be serving when I get there. Sister Maureen greets me at the back door and says that she has been anticipating my arrival and invites me in. The very first room to the right, when you walk in through the back, is a large kitchen that has an expansive island-top and multi-eye gas burning range stove. This is where I figure I’ll be working even though I’m not entirely certain what my serving capacity entails. We continue on through this large and beautiful house to the main sitting area and take a seat on the couch to wait for the others to arrive. Sister Maureen has a tranquil and tender countenance and she gives me the history and current progress at the DDHH. The DDHH of Memphis was founded in May of 2006 by a group concerned citizens that wanted to fill in some of the housing gaps for the homeless. The DDHH’s mission is to keep homeless families together during times of hardship until a more solidified financial situation is formed. The DDHH has particular set of guidelines for the families that they accept. For instance, they will not take in people that have a problem with drugs, alcohol, or domestic abuse. As Sister Maureen puts it, “we are not social workers, just caring Memphians.” The type of families living at the DDHH could be anyone of us who have experienced some type of uncontrollable catastrophe rendering us completely vulnerable with nowhere to turn. Sister Maureen also explains to me that on any given day there are approximately 214 homeless families in the Memphis area. That’s a difficult fact to digest, especially when I see so many vacant homes on the market for months and months and even longer still. Sister Maureen regretfully turns away up to 100 families a year. She is working on compiling grant writing resources in hopes that a financial windfall will allow her to purchase the two rather large homes across the street for further family housing.
At this point the sitting area fills with more people, some living there, and some visiting. I meet the families living there and others who are they to just share time and fellowship. A circle is now forming and we are all handed a sheet of paper with hymns and prayers to follow along with and read out loud. I now realize I am not here to serve in the sense that I have served most of this week, but to offer my time in spirit, prayer, and conversation. That is a service with which I am well-versed and grateful to give. At the end of prayer and scripture there is time to reflect and offer thanks for our blessings. One of the single moms offers thanks for her new job at FedEx and we offer thanks with her. She had been on the job hunt for a while and had several promising positions fall through at the last minute. It was clear that this job came at the right time and her smile spoke more than I could write here. We close with the Lord’s Prayer and move on to dessert. I spend the majority of the remainder of the evening in the kitchen talking with two of the single moms that live in the house as the kids play outside in the freezing cold and blustery winds. One of the moms looks soulfully out the window as the kids shoot hoops and throw the football. She explains that this season of life has been difficult because she does not have transportation and her kids are two different schools and the process of getting student bus passes has been tumultuous. The strain wears her out but she is hopeful about the future and excited to finish her continuing education in a few weeks. Even though the transition is difficult for the families, I see they are happy to have each other and that life is heading into a positive future.

Keeping families together is so important. I offer thanks for the DDHH.


Sister Maureen


Silly faces for the camera!

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Week 2, Day 7: Rivers Powers at Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Everyone knows that homelessness is a problem in America, but what most people don’t know is how the system works to combat the problem. Homeless shelters exist and are supported by governments, faith-based organizations, and non-governmental organizations. However, many shelters have very specific requirements for who they allow to reside in them. Some are gender specific, substance-free, number restricting (per family unit), time limited, or religiously affiliated, but very few allow families to remain intact or allow male children over the age of about 6. This is where the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality comes in: to fill this void and prevent families from being separated just because they are homeless.

Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is a great place for families, who can’t get into a typical shelter, to stay while they are getting back on their feet. Some families who have come through the Dorothy Day House are homeless due to traumatic life events, financial circumstances, or rebuilding their lives after incarceration, but the common thread they all share is a willingness to be self-sufficient and needing some assistance figuring out how to do that. Dorothy Day House has social, instructional, technological, and occupational resources available for the families to help them with school and the life, job, and financial skills they will need for independent living. Because these resources are available to women with children of both genders, regardless of age, the Dorothy Day House is filling a vacancy left by the system.

The Dorothy Day House offers several social opportunities each week for its residents. On Sundays, there is dessert and spiritual social during which time a volunteer brings desserts and scriptures and prayers are read by the group. This is a fun way to get to know new people who may not get to socialize often or may feel disconnected from the world around them. I totally failed to take photos when I was there, but I really enjoyed the Rice Krispy treats and fruit with my conversation on Sunday.

Week 2, Day 6: Rivers Powers at Dirty Girl Run

I am a runner. I am what some would call a long distance runner, but for plenty of my running buddies, my half-marathon max distance is very short. I’ve participated in dozens of races, which require lots of training, but I’ve only been out to Shelby Farms at 6am 2 or 3 times for training runs, and it’s always been cold when I have.

The only reason that rivals a training run for best reasons to be at Shelby Farms before the sun rises is to help out with a charity run. The Dirty Girl Run is a girls (of all ages) muddy 5K obstacle course whose proceeds benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Maybe my favorite thing about the run series is that breast cancer survivors get to participate for free!

It was a lot of fun to work behind the scenes at a race. I handed out t-shirts to almost 600 people in about 2.5 hours. After having to say my script 600 times, I have a new-found respect for those who put on races. The last race I was in had about 20,000 participants, and I would have totally lost my voice if I had needed to go through the t-shirt sizing and bib-pinning information 19,400 more times. Actually, I would have lost my voice long before that.

Before the sun came up, it was really quite frosty with unwelcome cold weather since a mere 12 hours before it was sunny and 75, but once the sun came up, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. So beautiful, in fact, that I allowed my arm to be twisted to jump in and crawl through the last mud pit at the finish line. It really was a lot of fun, but the muddy water was quite cold. Pro-tip: if you’re going to jump into a mud pit when it’s 50 degrees outside, you should have some warm, dry clothes to ride home in.

The best way to do the Dirty Girl Run is to do the volunteer/runner combo. Volunteers get to do the course for free, so it’s a win-win for the race planners and participants.



Week 2, Day 5: Rivers Powers at The Waffle Shop at Calvary Episcopal Church

I am an Episcopalian (though Calvary is not my parish) and have been living in Memphis for several years, so I knew about The Waffle Shop and the Lenten Preaching Series at Calvary Episcopal Church, but I had never been until it was chosen as part of my Volunteer Odyssey.  I went the day before I was scheduled to volunteer with a friend to have lunch and see how it all works.  Fortunately, he knew and introduced me to the woman in charge, so I didn’t have to go into it totally blind on Friday.

The first thing I did as a volunteer was wait tables, something I didn’t think I would do again, but it’s really not bad at the Waffle Shop – not to be confused with the Waffle House – even though the house is packed non-stop on Fridays for more than two hours.  Very few full-time downtown restaurants serve as many people at lunch on a daily basis as the Waffle Shop does during Lent – about 350-400 on a Friday.  That’s a lot.  From what most people were eating, the big draw on Friday during Lent is the fish pudding, in order to observe a religious tradition of abstaining from meat consumption on Fridays.  However, as soon as you walk in the door, the smell of the waffles is purely intoxicating, and I am now a waffle making machine.  I can operate 4 waffle irons simultaneously – a skill I’m not sure I will ever need again unless I go work as a short order cook in a diner somewhere.  Working at the waffle station is great!  You get to talk to pretty much everyone and make awesome waffle smiley faces with sausages or chicken hash for eyes.

The only thing better than the food at the Waffle Shop is the other volunteers.  From the busboys to the cashiers to the kitchen staff; it is a wholly volunteer-driven operation, and the daily front-house management is handled by Eddie Thomas.  She is an unbelievable force of nature.  Not only does she manage the staff and seating arrangements for all 300+ daily diners at community tables, but she also knows just about everyone in Memphis, and seats people with others they may enjoy meeting and conversing with.  Businessmen of all kinds could learn a lot about human resources, sales, and customer relations from her.

All the food served at the Waffle Shop is tasty, especially the desserts, and if you’re downtown for lunch during Lent, I highly recommend stopping by, and if you have a few hours during the 40-day Lenten season, I suggest you consider volunteering there as well.

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Week 2, Day 4: Rivers Powers at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen

What will the Lord put on your heart to help the poor & homeless eat a nutritious meal?

Access to healthy foods, regardless of someone’s socio-economic status is something I am passionate about, both personally and professionally.  St. Mary’s Catholic Church’s Soup Kitchen is at the top of the list in Memphis for tackling this issue on a daily basis.  They serve around 90,000 meals every year to the poor and hungry.  From 7:15 – 10:00am water, electricity for charging a cell phone, and food are provided to anyone who shows up. In addition to snacks, each person receives a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a deli meat sandwich, and 16 oz. of hot soup.  My tasks there were very basic – making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, breaking down a cooked chicken, dicing potatoes, and serving food.

From a volunteer’s perspective, the job functions are simple, but the people there are incredible.  The regular volunteer corps (especially Team Thursday) is a dedicated group of people with the most interesting life stories who just make you want to be a better person – not because of anything earthshattering but because they are genuinely good, warm souls who inspire those around them because they are simply kind, compassionate, and find charitable works to be a natural imperative.  Some people are a part of families who have volunteered at St. Mary’s for generations, and others aren’t parishioners or even Christians; they want to help their fellow man in any way they can, just because they can.  On one hand, it could make you feel bad for how little you may be giving back to your community, but on the other it helps restore your faith in humanity since you know there are people who are doing nice things for other people because they have the ability to do so.

And if that isn’t enough to give you the warm fuzzies, the gratitude and humility of those being served certainly will.  It was literally freezing when I got to St. Mary’s, and before it opened, there were dozens of people standing out in the cold waiting to be served, and when they came through the line to get their hot food, almost every single one of them said something pleasant or uplifting or even a simple thank you.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen is a very special place, and I recommend it as a volunteer opportunity for anyone looking to donate their time to a very worthy cause and/or to have an opportunity to experience some spiritual growth.


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