Visions of a Big Mac: Serving the Homeless of Memphis

Visions of a Big Mac
Serving the homeless of Memphis
Guest Blog Post by Jeff Hulett

A little more than a month ago at Neighborhood Church where my family and I are congregants, our pastor, Robert Grisham, challenged the church to think outside the box about giving this Christmas. He asked us to think about what God was calling us to do this holiday season.

Then, he did something a little unexpected.

He called up ten of us from the pews and gave us each an envelope. Inside was a $100 bill. You should’ve heard some of the kids’ (and adults’!) reactions.

Priceless!

Clearly, this money wasn’t meant for me or the others standing in front of the church, although I certainly could have put that cash to good use. My wife Annie and I just welcomed our second baby into our family, and that $100 could have really strengthened our coffee fund!

But before my mental cup was brewed, Robert went on to say that the money was for our Kingdom assignment.

Translation: this money is for us to do something good.

He gave some examples of what people had done in the past and sent us back to our seats. The only rule was to be creative and try to engage friends, family and the community in some way. Making a onetime donation to an organization, while good, was not the point of the assignment.

So what to do with this money? Glad you asked.

I live in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood. One day, while heading out of midtown to my folks’ place in Germantown, I saw a homeless person asking for food or money at what seemed like every.single.median. The image of one guy is forever emblazoned in my mind. He held a handmade sign that read, “Visions of a Big Mac.” That simple piece of cardboard made a huge impact on me.

For years, Annie and I have made it a point to always have snack crackers in our cars to give to those in need. We try to tell our older daughter, Ella, that we all can be helpers, no matter how small our gifts may seem. Sometimes she’s the one who hands out the crackers. Even at three years old, I think she understands what giving is all about.

So, again, what was I going to to do for my kingdom assignment?

Then it hit me.

I’m friends with several of the lead volunteers for Room In the Inn Memphis (RITI), so I knew that they were doing some great work with Memphis’ homeless community. I called Lisa Anderson and told her about my kingdom assignment and asked how I could help. She said that Room in the Inn was in need of survival kits for their guests. Kits are plastic sandwich bags filled with some of the little necessities that make a big difference in the quality of life of those living on the street: tube socks, wash cloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, garbage bag and some kind of snack.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you what RITI does. In a nutshell, RITI Memphis, modeled after Room in the Inn Nashville, provides dinner and breakfast, a shower, and warm bed for guests one night a week during the coldest winter months (Nov. thru March). Currently, there are nine congregations in Memphis participating. To put it into perspective, RITI Nashville has more than 150 congregations.

Here’s my thought: with a church or faith community on every corner here in Memphis, something is wrong with this picture, don’t you think?

But I digress. Back to my project.

I set a goal to make 500 survival kits for Room in the Inn. Then, I just started talking it up with people. First up, I got my small group involved. We all agreed to go after one or two of the items on our list. Chris took tube socks, Ginger took toothbrushes. Annie and I reached out to our co-workers and families to donate what they could. Not to mention social media. What I’ve realized in all of this is that people want to help. They just need a simple way to do so. We set up an Amazon Wish List for RITI that featured our needed items and included my address.

putting kits togetherEvery day for three weeks I came home from work to find boxes filled all the things we asked for. We also had our kids reaching out to their friends and school mates. Walt, who was also chosen for a kingdom project put his money and efforts towards RITI. He and Meredith were in charge of wash clothes. My dad gave me a $20 spot and other friends chipped in cash as well. It was an overwhelming outpouring of support.

While the goal was to create survival kits, we also wanted to get the word out about this wonderful ministry. And we did! We’ve also decided to make this an annual fundraiser.

My house was filling up with stuff and everyone kept giving.

stuff for the kits

Our deadline to turn in items was December 5 and our packing party to put together kits was December 10, but with my wife’s due date being December 10, we made the item deadline and packing party the same day, December 5.

December 5th, rainy December 5th.

We all met at Josh and Ginger’s house and created the most amazing assembly line ever. We told the kids it was like trick-or-treating too which made it even more fun. Altogether, we made up more than 350 kits, but we also donated a ton more, including first aid kits, blankets, plates, clothes, and shampoo.

Ella helps assemble survival kits

Ella helps assemble survival kits

Late that night, Ella, Chris and I delivered the goods to Lisa at RITI’s new space downtown. Lisa and her husband, Barry, were floored by the generosity of people who participated in this project.

The next day, December 6, my wife gave birth to baby Bea. Really glad we moved that deadline up!

But y’know what else? I’m glad we put that crisp $100 bill to work building better lives for our neighbors. Coffee can wait another day. That $100 did something amazing. It turned into more than $500 and inspired our family and friends to make a difference. How do you put a value on that?

Thanks to all who contributed. I definitely didn’t do it alone.

For more information about Room in the Inn Memphis, visit http://www.roomintheinn-memphis.org/. They do great work and make it easy to get involved!


Do you want to get involved? Here are two easy ways to help:

Check Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar for upcoming opportunities to volunteer with Room in the Inn.

Purchase something from RITI’s Wish List and ship it to them directly!