By Kristen B. Reed, The Clarion Ledger
Children dressed in their Sunday best played in Smith Park in downtown Jackson on Sunday, enjoying the warm, springlike weather as their Sunday school class partnered with an area nonprofit to serve lunch to Jackson’s homeless.
Every Sunday, just after noon, Why Not Now of Mississippi joins area civic organizations or church groups to provide a meal.
“We started this by basically coming out here one Sunday with a Crock-Pot,” said executive director Matt Hopkins, who began the project in 2011 with his wife, Tara.
He said they started off serving five or six people each week, but as word of mouth spread, the lunch crowd grew.
“We’re averaging about 75 per Sunday,” he said.
Why Not Now of Mississippi facilitates the lunches, allowing other groups to provide the meals while the nonprofit provides needed materials including a table, plates and forks.
On Sunday, Madison United Methodist Church’s Faith Builders Sunday school class volunteered to bring a meal of baked potatoes, chili, green beans, desserts and drinks.
Volunteer Lee Ann Griffin said it was the group’s second time volunteering.
“It put a few of us out of our comfort zone, but once we came out, we saw these were people just like us. And it’s our duty to share God’s blessings, ... so we really enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to come back,” Griffin said.
Griffin said she gets mixed reactions when telling people about volunteering in the Jackson park that is a well-known gathering place for the capital city’s homeless.
She said people would ask her, “ ‘Weren’t you scared to bring your kids down there?’ ”
“It’s not scary at all,” she said.
“By the grace of God, it’s not me living on the streets. It’s important for us to show our children these are people just like us. No, we’re not scared; it’s not scary to reach out and help another human being. You just have to get out and do it.”
Carl Croom was one of the nearly 100 homeless people who came out for lunch Sunday. He said he enjoys the ministry.
“We really appreciate what these people are doing,” Croom said.
“A lot us out here are not out here getting a handout. Me, personally, I’m trying to find work.”
Hopkins said getting the job done is a team effort and is not possible without the support of the volunteer groups and people on the nonprofit’s team, including Stephen Errington, who when asked his title within the organization, said, “I’m just here.”
By “just here,” Errignton meant he’s there to do basically anything that needs to be done for the ministry.
Why Not Now of Mississippi also gives out nonperishable snack bags and toiletries to the homeless people at the park in addition to organizing the weekly meals.
To contact Kristen B. Reed, call (601) 961-7059 or follow @KristenBReed on Twitter.