During the course of this amazing journey we have been blessed to able to meet so many new people and faces. Because we have been so blessed to be where we are now I would like to take a moment and tell the story of how we became Why Not Now of Mississippi. First and for most all things are possible only because we are following what God as in store for us.
The journey began in late April of 2011 when I, along with Tara and some other friends, attended the Orange Conference in Atlanta, GA. One of the very first speakers we heard was a gentleman named Ron Hall. Ron was a pretty good speaker and told a great story. He told his story and talked about a book he wrote entitled Same Kind Of Different As Me. The book seemed very interesting and in the lobby copies of the book were for sale, but since at this point of my life I don't recall reading a book cover to cover I was not about to purchase the book. However, a friend of ours did. That is important but not for many months down the road. Also at the Orange Conference the Theme song was a new song at the time "Move" by Mercy Me. Ron's story and the song "Move" made the ride home for us 3 days later a turning point. I knew it was time to move. But how?
After coming home and talking with an associate pastor from a local church I learned that a huge need in Jackson was taking care of the homeless in the city. I learned that most homeless men and women were in need a good backpack and also personal hygiene items. (To paint a vivid picture for you I have to tell you that late April and early May of 2011 both Tara and I were parking our cars in the garage with no problems at all.) So collecting backpacks and personal hygiene items is exactly what we started doing. Come to find out collecting items was the easy part. We continued to collect items through the summer and into August. By this time I was parking in the driveway but thankfully we were still able to park Tara's car in the garage. But also at this time I personally hit a brick wall. I hit a brick wall with the ministry I thought I was supposed to be doing and I hit a brick wall spiritually. I was basically lost and confused and in a nut shell I was in a spiritual funk.
At this point in time I decided to pick up the book Same Kind Of Different As Me that my friend bought in Atlanta. Let me tell you that once I picked it up I was hooked. The book was awesome! It changed my life and instantly I found my way again. Only two things stopped me from reading the book cover to cover that night 1) I am a terribly slow reader 2) I picked up the book at 10:00pm and I need my 8 hours of sleep. Needless to say I finished the book in about 2 days. I knew it was time to "Move". Easier send then done but I knew it was time.
At first, we had planned to find a street corner or empty parking lot in Jackson where we could set up all the clothes on racks and give them away for no charge, we were going to have lunch served, and even have games etc for the kids. It was going to awesome and if all went well we were going to make this a monthly gathering. But, that was my plan not God's plan and thankfully we listened. Come to find out God's plan was cooler anyway.
The day was Sunday November 6, 2011. I remember the day like it was yesterday. We were in Fondren coming home at almost noon when we saw a person sleeping on a bench outside the Quiznos on State Street. We could not tell if it was a man or woman but we did notice this person was covered up by a white sheet and the white sheet was stained with blood. We were in the car with another couple and drove past this person at first. Tara insisted we pull in the parking lot and get out and see if everything was okay. Honestly, the rest of disagreed pretty strongly. However, after a minute or so the two of us got out of the car and approached the person. "Sir, Sir, Sir is everything okay". The person quickly woke up and then sits up. It turned out that the gentleman was okay but had fallen the night before and cut up his elbow pretty good. Instincts took over at this point and I asked if we could get anything for him. Much to my surprise all he said was "Yes, I would like a glass of water." I quickly scampered across the street to the gas station and picked up some items to clean the wound, some food, and some water and while I was gone Tara and others in the car were able to get him a fresh blanket.
On the way home we talked and we knew exactly how we were going to "Move". We were going to pack up the car the following Sunday with clothes etc and hand out bag lunches to 50 people. That is exactly what we did too. However, the day was wicked cold and wet which we had no plan for. We had the car packed tight with clothes and food and we were off. We hit a snag almost instantly, where do homeless man and woman hang out on cold and wet days. We had no idea. What we did was simple, we rode around. We stopped and talked to a few people, probably scared them to death, at intersections and we passed out clothes and the sack lunches. Toward the end of the day we stumbled upon Smith Park where a very small hand full of men and one woman were gathered. They were very nice and very appreciative so we stayed for a few minutes before heading over to Stewpot to hand out the rest of what we had.
After we wrapped up and headed home changing out of the wet clothes I was smacked with reality. For the first time in my life I got an extremely small glimpse of what it was like to be homeless. It literally took me 3-4 hours to get the warmth back in my feet from that day. That night we decided that we would go back to Smith Park the following Sunday and serve lunch and build a relationship with the hand full of people we met that day. So on November 20. 2011 we made the visit back to Smith Park with a loaf of bread, a case of water, and a crockpot of red beans and rice. We had an awesome afternoon. It was incredible to say the least. For the rest of November and through December we went back to Smith Park each and every Sunday for lunch. During those 5-6 weeks we had two small groups from Fondren Church help us out with a meal and we also received a check from a family to assist us with preparing the meals for an additional Sunday. We saw our group of friends quickly grow from six to an average of twenty five. Things were going well but we knew this was just the beginning.
In January of 2012 we took the next step and we started going through the process of becoming non-profit. I was spending more and more time at Smith Park getting to know people, serving with other organizations, and digging in deep finding out what the greatest need was and how we could be the most productive. Through the months of January and February we kept doing the same ole thing. Then in early March we received notice that were granted 501(c)(3) status. At this time we started receiving donations to help with the expense of our food ministry on Sunday's. Sunday after Sunday would pack up the car with food etc and head on out to Smith Park. We saw the group of people we serving start to average 45 each and every week. It was awesome!
In April the same story, except by now we were averaging 65 each and every Sunday. Also by this time we had made some real friendships. That's when things started to get interesting and exciting. We knew the food ministry was not our only calling. We knew something more was supposed to happening but we just did not know what that was. But like all things, we found out sooner rather thanr later. What we did was we sought out to help one person go from being homeless with not a penny to his name to being self sufficient and living in an apartment in his own name. From start to finish it took 60 days and $2,000.00 but we did it. This man has since had his ups and downs but he is doing good in his new job and entirely on his own now. Although Tara and I did the leg work and assisted this man from being homeless to not homeless none of what we did for him could have been possible without the monetary donations that many of you made. Every single penny helped donated helped in this process. Now that we had succeeded with him we are moving on to the next. We have since been able to transition 3 gentlemen off the streets. It is never easy and all three have had bumps in the road but I can say they are three still doing well and all three are working and not living in shelters anymore.
Fast forward to June 5, 2015 and no matter what the day is and no matter what the weather is like our "friends" know that at 12:15 on Sunday afternoon we will be at Smith Park serving a home cooked lunch to on average of 85 people.
For those who were curious our Sunday "Picnic in the park" averages $150 per Sunday and we are serving an average of 85 with a high last summer of 97. The meal we serve typically consists of at least one vegetable, one fruit, one dessert, water, and a main dish and the meal is always fresh which is great!
Why Not Now of Mississippi is actively searching for grants and aid to help along our journey; however, in the interim they only way we are able to do what we do is through all our supporters. We always have many needs that need to be met. Those needs can be as simple as bus fair or diapers to bigger needs such as shoes or clothing. No matter the need we do what we can to assist. So, If you willing and able please take a moment and pray about supporting Why Not Now of Mississippi. Whether your donation is $5 or $500 every penny is needed and is always appreciated.
Well, I do believe I took up more of your time than I intended to but I sincerely thank you for reading this. If you would like more information please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, please take a minute and click on the links below and follow us on both Facebook and Twitter so that you can keep up with us. Thanks again and know that we thank you for your prayers and support.