Small cupcake. Big impact.

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By Lulu Abdun, Summer Programs Associate at Volunteer Odyssey

We want to tell you about a very special student we just met.Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.11.19 PM

Volunteer Odyssey hosted a day at Lausanne Collegiate School’s Social Entrepreneurship Camp for high school age students. Seven different presenters spoke about the organizations they founded and how their work makes an impact. These organizations include Operation Broken Silence, Links of Luv, Lucy J’s BakeryEkata Designs, Women of Hope International, Volunteer Odyssey, and Forever Ready Productions.

Students at the Camp had a wide array of passions ranging from bringing technology to the less fortunate, building innovative inventions, and  sharing the art of music with others. Although each student’s passion was unique, a similar theme resonated with all of them: helping others.

Each presenter talked implicitly about this theme too. However, the story of one individual in the room that day can give everyday people like you and me an incentive to help others.

Tracy from Dorothy Day House spoke about her budding business called Lucy J’s Bakery. This unique bakery will provide homeless families who live at Dorothy Day House a place to work, people to write references for future jobs, a living—not minimum—wage, team building skills, and so much more. Tracy told the students at the Camp about this budding business and gave them a special treat: mini cupcakes from Lucy J’s. As Tracy passed around the tray of cupcakes, she told the students that one cupcake had a surprise on the bottom, and with that surprise one could do what he or she pleased.

As students reached for a cupcake, one lucky fellow, Naseem Dove, picked up the “special cupcake”. Below this delicious treat, a folded green paper appeared. Unfolded emerged a ten-dollar bill. The generous student told us that he wanted to donate his newly-found ten-dollar bill back to Dorothy Day House. When we think back to this theme of helping others, this act of generosity represents the idea of helping others and giving back.

Pay it forward. Start here.

It’s time to make your mark

In 2015, Forbesminutematch ranked Memphis as one of the top ten cities where it is easiest to make your mark; however as a city, we continue to fall behind in the ability to retain talented young professionals.  So how do we attract and retain this young talent and ensure that they are investing in 901?  One way is to provide these professionals with quality volunteer opportunities that allow them to make a positive impact in their community.

At Volunteer Odyssey, we want to help these emerging leaders in Memphis to make their mark and discover that perfect volunteer opportunity that makes them want to invest in our great city.

On Wednesday, June 15th, we are hosting VolunCheers Minute Match in order to get more people through Memphis connected with a cause and a organization they are passionate about and will continually want to volunteer with in the future.  This event is a speed dating event designed to help volunteers find their ideal volunteer opportunity in just 60 minutes. After visiting each non-profit, attendees will fill out a survey to determine which non-profit won them over for a second date.This is a great way for people to get to know what kind of opportunities are available to them in Memphis as well as get to know many other young professionals from around the city.  Tickets are $5 in advance, $10 at the door, which includes food and beer from Wiseacre Brewing Co.

Where will you make your mark?

Event Details:
When: Wednesday, June15th
Where: Emerge Memphis | 516 Tennessee St
Time: 5:30-7:30pm


Mix Odyssey 2016 Recap


Thank you so much to the hundreds of you who attended the 3rd annual Mix Odyssey on Saturday, February 27th. The event was a huge success and raised money to help us continue to follow our mission: To connect Memphians with their ideal volunteer opportunities and share those stories.

And speaking of stories, here’s a link to the Mix Odyssey 2016 recap video. If you haven’t seen it, take a look.

The winners of the Mix Odyssey 2016 contest are:

1st place: Aaron Henna from Hog & Hominy for his “Instant Karma.”
2nd place: Cady Smith from Cafe Pontotoc for her “The Can-can Dance.”

If you liked it and want another taste, you can order “Instant Karma” off the menu at Hog & Hominy and “The Can-can Dance” is available for a limited of time at Cafe Pontotoc.

Special thanks to Orion FCU, Bacardi Family Foundation, Whole Foods Market POPLAR, Southland Park Gaming and Racing, Buster’s Liquors, Metro Graphics, Start Co., Wiseacre Brewing Company, HRO Partners, LLC, Rec Room, The Marston Group, PLC and Forever Ready Productions, LLC for the video.

We also want to thank our volunteers who helped make the event possible. From set-up to clean-up and everything in between the event was successful because of your help.

If you’d like to volunteer, don’t forget to visit our opportunity calendar. If you’re looking to connected with a cause, visit Volio.

Thanks again for making Mix Odyssey a success. We look forward to seeing you again soon at one of our upcoming events.

Light a candle, make a difference, pass it on

“The Buddha teaches that ‘a thousand candles can be lighted from a single candle.’ You lit mine. I endeavored to light theirs. I believe in earnest that they will light others and so on.”

Those are the words Stuart Cohen wrote to Volunteer Odyssey after he attended a graduation at Advance Memphis.

Stuart contacted Volunteer Odyssey (via Jeremy Park at Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club) because he wanted to get connected with a cause in Memphis, one that he felt passionate about. We introduced him to Advance Memphis, a non-profit organization that serves the 38126 zip code in Memphis.  They work with people in that community to empower them to change their lives and their community.  They do so with programs that bring hope, knowledge, resources and skills.

Stuart was paired with Johnny, one of three men he mentored for six weeks.  Johnny had been incarcerated through December and he was looking for a way to gain skills and get a job.


Stuart and Johnny at Advance Memphis Graduation

On Friday, February 26th, Johnny graduated from Advance Memphis.  Stuart was there too and got to meet Johnny’s son, wife and sister.  And as he put it, was his ‘champion work-like mentor.’

“His next goal is to complete his GED. He is now guaranteed work and fair pay thanks to Advance Memphis.  The money he earns will go towards cooking school.  His dream is to become a chef at his own restaurant,” Stuart told Volunteer Odyssey. “I promised to be his first customer.”

Stuart went on to say: “Today he completes one huge step towards a better life and good works.  He and all the men and women who completed an intense 6 weeks, plus passing a drug test, are the biggest winners.”

Johnny spoke at graduation.  He told his class that he was full of gratitude, joy, and hope and he specifically thanked Stuart for helping him through the program.

 “I have never in my life been so moved. Tears were shed. They held their certificates high,” Stuart said.

 Stuart began with a question: Where can I volunteer?  And how can I make a difference in the process?

 “Those men know that I am ‘in their pocket.’ What’s more, they surged forward knowing that God is there too. What a wonderful foundation to build upon,” Stuart said.

 This is really only the beginning of Johnny and Stuart’s story.  And we thank Stuart for saying “yes” to Volunteer Odyssey, Advance Memphis and most importantly, Johnny.

 If you have a story like Stuart and Johnny, we want to hear it.  E-mail us at    

Volunteer from Home on MLK Day

Volunteer from Home on Martin Luther King Day!

Many people want to give back on MLK Day and do something to help others.

However, many non-profits are closed in observance of the holiday.  Fortunately, there’s a great way to volunteer from home and to help those who are experiencing homelessness. It’s great for family, friends, any size group, and all ages!

With that in mind, here’s a special project for you and your family on MLK Day: make gift bags for the homeless.

Here’s how to make gift bags for the homeless with your family on MLK Day.

Step 1:

Meet the people you’ll helping: 

Homelessness can be a faceless, nameless problem that seems abstract. Fortunately, two wonderful organizations produced pictures and videos for this exact purpose.

Meet Jerry. At the time of this interview with Jerry, was homeless.  Here’s his story: Jerry’s story

Jerry. Image credit: Focus for the Good

Listen to Jerry’s story

This lady is named Pat. Does she fit your image of homelessness? Pat’s story

Pat. Image credit: Focus for the Good

Listen to Pat’s story

And this is Tarvis. What is his life like? Tarvis’s story

Tarvis. Image credit: Focus for the Good

Listen to Tarvis’s story

There are also a lot of families and children who are homeless. Dorothy Day House of Hospitality in Memphis is a refuge for these families.

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Watch this video about the Dorothy Day House

Maybe you found some parts sad or shocking. I hope you found something that resonated with you and challenged how you envision homelessness. I hope you feel inspired to help.

Step 2:
Make a list of items to include

You can build your own gift bags with anything you like. We used gallon sized bags but quart sized bags are very common for this project as well. Here are some ideas of items to include:

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Hand lotion
  • Gum
  • Healthy snacks (individual servings of peanut butter, applesauce, dried fruit, granola bars, tuna fish and crackers along with disposable utensils)
  • A list of places (addresses and phone numbers) that provide services for the homeless
  • Socks, gloves, hats
  • Gift cards for fast food restaurants and public transit
  • Bottled water
  • Razor and shaving cream
  • Chapstick
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Inspirational message or helpful information

When planning healthy snacks, consider that many of the homeless are missing teeth and cannot easily eat hard foods like peanuts. Fruit cocktail, applesauce and soft fruit bars are more accessible for everyone.

Step 3:
Collect or purchase materials for your gift bags

Open all of the packages and make your assembly line


photo3 (1)Step 4:

With your friends and family, form an assembly line and place one of each item into the bag.

The final product

The final product

Step 5:

You can donate these to one of the many wonderful organizations in Memphis that serve the homeless. Here are a few:
Urban Bicycle Food Ministry: Email Frank 
Room in the Inn Memphis: Email Lisa
St Mary’s Soup Kitchen: Email Martin
Need more ideas for places to donate in Memphis?  Email us!

Step 6:
Tell us about it!

We’d love to share your family’s project. Email us or share it on our Facebook page.

Looking at the pictures and watching the videos will give you and your family a better sense of who you would be helping and it reminds us to be thankful for our warm homes and our families. This is a great project for any age and any size group. Everyone can help with selecting the items and filling the bags.


If you’re looking for more way to get involved, Visit our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities or our Virtual Volunteer Fair – Volio!

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Find Volunteer Opportunities


Virtual Volunteer Fair Connect with a Cause








Very special thank you to for helping us share how you can volunteer from home in Memphis:

  • Bill Piacesi and the Focus for the Good team
  • Beth Halldorson and Liz McKee of Baker Donelson

Putting the “I” in Service

By Dannon Eubanks
Emerging Leader
University of Memphis

Volunteering at the Carpenter Art Garden in Memphis

Volunteering at the Carpenter Art Garden in Memphis

As an Emerging Leader at the University of Memphis, volunteering is a requirement. It’s easy to involve yourself in something when your scholarship is dependent on it. What’s not so easy is to transition yourself from doing something as a chore to doing something because you got more out of it than just a signature. They say doing something for twenty-one days makes it become a habit, but I don’t think it takes twenty-one volunteer experiences for that to become a habit. It takes something much simpler yet not often enough grasped. All it takes to make a habit out of volunteering is heart. What I have found is that when you put love into serving, you get love out of it. You get out what you put in. With that being said, being a college athlete trying to find time to volunteer, no matter how much heart for serving I have, can be extremely difficult. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without the Volunteer Odyssey calendar this semester. I can sit down with my personal calendar and pull up the volunteer calendar and easily be able to tell what I am free to do. Along with that, I have access to contact information and details about the posted events. Because of the Volunteer Odyssey Calendar, I have had the blessing of working with the Carpenter Art Garden, the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, Urban Bicycle Food Ministry and Jacob’s Well. These opportunities have not only helped me maintain my scholarship by fulfilling my hours, they have given me experiences I will never forget with people I never would have had the privilege to meet otherwise. I have been blessed not only by the calendar and the peace of mind it gives me, but also by every hour I have served. These hours don’t just go towards my scholarship, they go towards my life lessons. As Gandhi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Another great way to find yourself is with fellowship with others. Being able to experience these things with people I know and love makes it all the much better. I have recommended the Volunteer Odyssey Calendar to fellow Emerging Leaders who need the hours, to my peers who simply want to be more involved around Memphis, and to church organizations who want to spread God’s love by serving, All in all, no matter what the cause, the Volunteer Odyssey Calendar is a blessing to all those grateful enough to have found it.

Dannon Eubanks is a freshman Emerging Leader at the University of Memphis. She is a distance runner for the University of Memphis Track and Field team and an active participant in the school’s Presbyterian collegiate ministry UKirk. She is from Brownsville, TN.


Are you ready to volunteer? Start with these:

1) Visit our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities

2) Check out our Virtual Volunteer Fair – Volio

3) Get updates

4) Or connect with us on Facebook

The prettiest flower you all brought today

Guest blog post by Julie Platten Long

I have always enjoyed serving and learning about my community through service. ALWAYS. My parents brought my sisters and me up in this way. My mom fondly recalls going on her Meals on Wheels route with me in the carseat. My husband and I have gone on many service “dates” and even went to a VolunCheers event when we were nine months pregnant. We have always talked about teaching our children the importance of serving others. We also decided that the earlier we can start bringing our children into this important aspect of our lives, the better.


When she was 4 months, I carried/wore Elaina in an awareness walk for the Church Health Center.

She has a very pleasant disposition and smiles constantly! My husband and I are involved with Aspire and we took Elaina to an Aspire event in which we took flowers that had been used for a wedding and repurposed them into little Bouquets of Hope to be delivered to people in nursing homes. Before we left the event, I had already signed up to help deliver the bouquets the next day. I was so excited about the ministry and I was thrilled to bring Elaina to share her joy with the residents as we brought their flowers.


We were greeted by Christine and Yoswae, the Memphis Catholic Student that works for Catholic Charities on Tuesday. We filled our carts with small vases and began taking them into the rooms of the residents. Over and over again, I heard the residents say, “Look at that baby! She’s the prettiest flower you all brought today!” The residents wanted to squeeze her baby hands and tickle her tiny feet. They smiled so brightly at her and she cooed right back at them. I had a revelation about how open Elaina is to loving everyone regardless of age, race, ability, or anything else. I realized that if I waited until she was school-aged, she might not be used to seeing people who are confined to a bed, or people who are missing teeth, or people with tubes helping them to breathe and she might feel scared or confused in that setting.

t3Because she is so young, she feels comfortable everywhere we go as long as she is in my arms. Men and women alike were eager to share parenting stories with me and tell me about all their children. Christine and I were delivering the bouquets on opposite sides of the hall but there were a few times where she would stop me and say, “Julie, can you bring Elaina in here? There’s someone in here that would love to meet her.” I also heard one of the residents say to Christine, “Excuse me, do you have a baby with you today? I need to see her!” It warmed my heart to see that just her baby presence was doing more for these residents than I could possibly do on my own. Elaina learned to wave very early (around 5 months) and each room that we went into, she would wave and smile. Everyone smiled and waved back at her and many people exclaimed things like, “OH! Look at her waving at me!” or “Hi, baby! Thank you for coming to see me today!”

t4            There are many volunteer opportunities that would be more difficult with a baby present and it can be overwhelming to think about bringing a baby into a setting where many people are not well. However, the experience was going so well that Elaina and I stayed late and delivered a whole extra cart after Christine and Yoswae needed to leave! My husband heard so much about our experience that he was eager to come with us the next time we went. We are in full agreement that we will absolutely continue to expose our daughter to these kinds of experiences and we hope to continue to volunteer as a family frequently in the future!


If you like our work, please DONATE to keep it going!

Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Looking for great volunteer opportunities in Memphis? Check out our calendar of volunteer opportunities.

Visiting volunteers use Volunteer Odyssey Calendar to connect with Memphis


Sometimes, when you’re traveling, the best way to get to know the city you’re visiting is to volunteer.  And that’s exactly what one group from Utah did this July while visiting Memphis.

They found their experience through Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities on our website.  It lists hundreds of opportunities across the cities, seven days a week, at all times of the day. Through our calendar, this group found the perfect volunteer opportunity at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. Christine Hash, Manager of Social Enterprises and Community Engagement, said the group was looking for a way to connect while in Memphis and the calendar helped them find the perfect opportunity.

This group of volunteers from Utah uses Volunteer Odyssey's Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities to connect with a cause in Memphis
This group of volunteers from Utah found their perfect volunteer opportunity in Memphis using Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities. They spent the day volunteering with one of our non-profit partners, Catholic Charities of West Tennesse. 

“They never would have found out about us if it wasn’t for your Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities. Thanks so much for continuing to spread the word about our volunteer opportunities and for giving us the opportunity to add ours to your calendar,” said Hash in an e-mail to Volunteer Odyssey.

The nine from Utah joined more than 70 other volunteers for “Volunteer Saturday,” helping sort clothes for CCWTN’s mobile outreach programs.

Catholic Charities of West Tennessee is the social services arm of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. They serve people of all ages and all walks of life through their mobile food pantry, clothing closet, veterans services and social enterprise work.

They continue to put volunteer opportunties on the Volunteer Oddyssey Calendar and are always seeking more help.

For a compete list of volunteer opportunities across Memphis visit our volunteer calendar


Alchemy at the Memphis Public Library

Note from Volunteer Odyssey: We’re featuring a series of guest bloggers who’ll share their volunteer experiences in the community. Today’s post comes from Herman P Markell – an extremely dedicated volunteer at the Memphis Public Library. 

Alchemy at the Memphis Public Library
by Herman P Markell

Everything that follows is based on the fact the Memphis Public Library System is one of the key institutions for life enhancement of all Memphians, and its continued growth will have a major positive impact on successfully improving our lives in the future. Just come to Central Library any morning at 830 AM to see people gathering to enter at 10 AM opening. It happens every day.

In 1958, when I returned to Memphis, after being honorably discharged from the US Air Force, I went to work at Parts Distributors Warehouse, later renamed CARQUEST Distribution Center, and stayed for 53 years.

During those years, I volunteered at the Jewish Community Center, United Way and many other organizations in the Jewish and general community, fundraising , committee and Board responsibilities and leadership roles in some.

In 1993, I volunteered to read on the Memphis Public Library’s FM station for the visually impaired, WYPL, 89.3, and continue to do so to this day. 1533 hours of broadcasts in the first 20 years. I love the books I read and my enjoyment doubles knowing I’m helping someone else enjoy as well.

About 5 years ago, I volunteered to help Friends of the Library’s May book sale, and found out what and how a small handful of Friends’ volunteers continue to have an annual positive influence on our Library’s budget, approximating $400,000 annually! And I knew I had to be a part of it.

Herman in high speed. Photo credit: Memphis Public Library

Herman in high speed. Photo credit: Memphis Public Library

Since then, I have averaged 1,200 or more hours a year, sorting through approximately 325,000 donations and Library discards annually which turn into this amazing amount of money for our Library.  And this is how we do it, with a small number of volunteers, and 3 paid, part time employees.

We cull material we cannot use and send to a local recycler. Last year, we kept 74 tons of mixed paper out of the landfill. Next we choose materials we cannot monetize and give them to government agencies and non profits. We have about 24 active clients, the largest being the Books for Busses program, who make them available to their customers, from bookcases in each of the 3 City bus terminals, FREE. They average giving away about 500 books a month. Hospitals, Church Health Center, local jails, prisons, and many schools and others throughout Shelby County, as well as Little Free Libraries for children all over the City. Our donations totaled over 15,000 pieces last year to these clients.

Then we begin the process of turning the rest into dollars. And all profits go directly to our Library system.

Our huge biannual community book sales are held at Benjamin L Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar, where highest price is $3.00. We have 18,000 items or more on display and thousands of customers attend the 2 day events.

The next level is Second Editions, often described as “the best used bookstore in the Mid South.”

It is located in the lobby of Central Library, and has constantly refreshed inventory of about 15,000 pieces, average price a bit over $3. Special sections include  children, teens, non fiction, hard and paper backed fiction, romance novels, advanced readers copies, signed books, Memphis themed books, vintage paperbacks, and collectors editions, and more. 2 part time staff and a number of dedicated volunteers are very attentive to customers seven days a week.

The most valuable books are sold through Amazon, and MEMFOL books, our internet name, and we maintain a 5 star rating for customer satisfaction. Visit our Amazon Store.

Jim in the "Amazon Room"

Jim in the “Amazon Room”. Photo Credit: Memphis Public Library

There are over 13,000 books in inventory, new titles added daily, and is the fastest growing profit center we have. Most sales are shipped in the continental US, but we have shipped internationally as well, with negotiated delivery costs. Sale prices go from $4 sheet music to books and sets over $500. Great operation, with another small crew of volunteers and our other part time employee.

And one more step. Almost half of our financial impact is in cost avoidance for Library collection additions. All Friends inventory is available first to Library staff who constantly check to see if we have received any books that can put into Library inventory, rather than purchase. At an average library acquisition cost of $23 per book, we save the library a huge amount each year.

All this from a group of people who are knowledgeable, hard working and delight in doing the impossible, turning dross into gold. We are Alchemists; and all for our Memphis Public Library System.

We only solicit the general community to join Friends of the Library, $10 a year, all of which goes directly to the Branch of your choice. They spend that money enhancing their customers’ experience, and furnish materials not covered in their budget.

I always loved books and bargain sales. In working with Friends of the Library (FOL), I get to enjoy both of these!  Friends of the Library helps to get donations and turn them into money for the library through our discounted book sales. We also provide lots of books for non-profit organizations that need them.  I’ve always loved doing something enjoyable that can benefit others at the same time. Volunteering at the library lets achieve this.  And I have been so blessed in my life, that I want to do things for others, who may not be as fortunate.

You can see why we are so dedicated, and want you to help. How?

Keep donating your books to the Library, large quantities to Central dock area where Staff will unload your car or truck, at 3030 Poplar. Smaller donations can be taken to your local branch. And attend our twice a year book sales for great bargains and a fun experience. And get amazing values on Second Edition purchases. Join as a Friend. And if any of this really motivates you to want to become one of the best and most productive group I’ve ever seen, call Terrice Thomas, our Volunteer Coordinator, at 415-2840, and she’ll make it happen. We have a variety of times to suit your schedule.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to describe the amazing work of Memphis Friends of the Library. Join with us in any of the ways I’ve listed. And tell someone else about us.

Are you looking for great volunteer opportunities in Memphis?
Check out our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities.

If you like our work, please DONATE to keep it going!

Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!


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.


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 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!