Mission Memphis Day 7: Memphis Union Mission

The Experience

From the minute I walked into the Memphis Union Mission, I knew I would have a lot to write.

The Memphis Union Mission provides a range of services including day shelters, emergency shelters and affordable short-term housing. I was there to help with serving lunch for 200 people that day. “We’re not a soup kitchen” the Reverend Randy Daniels said to me. “We eat well around here!” and he was right – the kitchen smelled like gumbo and corn bread. There were several guys toiling in the kitchen like a well-oiled machine – hard at work making lunch for the 200 “transient guests” as Randy calls them. I met Mark – a very helpful and energetic man running the kitchen. I also met Don, who was quiet, polite, and very hard working. He stopped working only long enough to give me a kind smile and a nod of his head. Don has been through the programs at Memphis Union Mission and he’s currently looking for a job to start rebuilding his life. Maybe you know the perfect opportunity for him.

Randy is very direct about their mission – they are a gospel rescue mission and they actively promote their faith to guests and volunteers alike; however, you’ll find a meaningful experience here even if you don’t share their religion. Some religious outreach groups require volunteers to sign a statement of faith, but Memphis Union Mission welcomes everyone regardless of their beliefs. When I first reached out to Randy for an interview he agreed quickly. And just as quickly, mentioned that he’d like me to attend chapel before lunch. Well played, Randy. I wanted to immerse myself in the experience so I went. I’m glad I did.

There’s a single room that serves as a chapel, dining hall, and overnight shelter. I sat in the very back of the room and slowly took in the place and people around me. The room was packed, but also calm and peaceful. I had a lot of time to reflect.


Chapel at Memphis Union Mission

I looked out over the bowed heads and was overwhelmed by the reality of what I saw. Everyone in this room has a hard life and a story about how they came to be in one of these white folding chairs. I scanned the crowd and saw men in wheelchairs. Women with babies. Families with no home.

I thought about the services they offered and about all the mouths to feed. Unintentionally, I smiled weakly knowing that each person would have at least one warm meal today. I thought again about the smell of gumbo and cornbread…and realized I was hungry. I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and my stomach was growling. Loudly. No wonder I was thinking about the kitchen. As I sat there, willing my stomach to quiet, my mind wandered to myself. Why did I skip breakfast? I always make a point to eat breakfast so I can concentrate. My stomach growled again. What did I want to eat? I started thinking through my list of favorite lunch spots. And then I stopped. And I felt ashamed. Even sitting among those who were truly hungry, I had taken my situation for granted. Not only do I know where my next meal will come from, but I get to choose! I was taking my situation for granted while those around me were struggling. Everyone is this room is wondering where to find food today, where to find shelter tonight, and where they will find the strength to do it again tomorrow.

In minutes, the chapel was cleared away and transformed in to a cafeteria, which is when I met nine-year-old Micah Douglass. Micah and his classmates from the Bartlett Home School Association volunteered to help that day. Micah and I worked side by side in the serving line and with the help of the other volunteers, we fed 200 people in 20 minutes. Afterward, I asked Micah what he thought about the experience. After giving it some thought, he answered slowly and thoughtfully, “I felt like I was taking care of them and it made me feel like I was part of them.” I was touched by how profound he was. Empathy at an early age. Micah’s dad Chris told me that he wants to show his son that there’s more than just Micah’s world. Chris said, “We want to give him an understanding of what opportunities are out there to cultivate his interest in volunteering. We want to know what issues are important to him.” I asked Micah if he would like to come back and do this again. Micah gave me a big smile and his dad looked just as proud. I think we have a new volunteer on our hands.

We are so programmed to expect the “basics” in life that we lose sight of the fact that basics for some are true luxuries for others. Are you hungry right now? You can change that. Are you warm right now? You’re fortunate! You have more than everyone in that room. Yet in that room there was still hope! Hope of finding a job, hope of seizing a new opportunity, and hope of building a better future.

How to Help

Volunteer! This is a great opportunity for individuals, corporations, families and groups.

Donate coats! Memphis Union Mission is in desperate need of men’s coats right now. Randy told me that many people organize coat drives, but it’s often January before the donations arrive. If you have a coat, please drop it off. Better yet, call 2 friends and ask them to donate too.

Donate money! Just $1.67 provides a meal. Could you find a meal for that same amount? $20.00 provides an ingenious coupon book for the homeless, which can be exchanged for food and other services.

Learn about how to help panhandlers. Read these guidelines and learn the facts: Should you give money? Are emergency shelters free to the homeless?

If you want to volunteer, contact Rev Randy Daniels at rdaniels@memphisunionmission.org

If you want to know more about volunteering, but aren’t quite ready to jump in, email me at sarah.petschonek@gmail.com. Thinking about helping is the first step!

What comes after the 30 Days Mission Memphis?  Volunteer Bound! I’m traveling across the country to promote volunteerism and I want to take you with me!


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1 Response to Mission Memphis Day 7: Memphis Union Mission

  1. Devon says:

    Hello, I know this is kinda late, but I was wondering about the coupon book. Is it possible to buy the books and keep them, in order to pass out to panhandlers in lieu of money? Or is there only an option to donate and have the mission take care of distribution?

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