Pancakes in the park

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On Sunday mornings, when most of us are recovering from Saturday night or in church, a handful of locals are feeding the invisible people of Murfreesboro.

The crew meets at The Experience Community each week at 8 o’clock to prepare breakfast before trekking the goods to Old Fort Park. There, they are greeted with dozens of hungry homeless and low-income residents – some single men, others full-fledged families – who smile and laugh and cut up like old pals.

This group of caregivers doesn’t want recognition. They’ve created relationships – read, friendships – with the folks they feed. They’re committed to the promise of providing breakfast week in and week out, on a day when most people are resting. And, perhaps most importantly, they love every minute of it.

“We’re also at the park with them, which is cool to me because we’re different in that way – we’re going out to them rather than waiting for them to come to us,” Amber Hampton explained.

“Basically, it’s like a having a big party with your friends. We hang out and talk with them. A lot of people that we run into just don’t have those relationships. People kind of brush them off and treat them almost less than human.”

The core group consists of Hampton, Joey Odom, Judy Buck and her daughter Danielle Williams, and Edward Maynard.

“It’s just the craziest thing to me,” Hampton continued. “I’ve lived in Murfreesboro for almost four years now, and this is the first year that I’ve actually done something. For me to think that this world was here the entire time that I was here … I just never realized that there were people out there hurting.”

She remembers how the whole thing started: “It kind of just fell in our laps.”

A couple of homeless guys, Bill and Tim, began attending The Experience Community around December, which sort of brought the problem of homelessness to the groups attention.

“And Joey had always wanted to do homeless stuff; he’d talked about one day wanting to open a shelter because he felt like that’s what God wanted him to do. When we got the idea, he was the first person we wanted to partner with us,” Hampton recalled.

“But it went way bigger, so much bigger than us.”

On the Sunday after Valentine’s Day, the group fed about six people, and six months later, they’re feeding more than 75 every week.

“It’s more than just feeding people,” Hampton reminds us.

She told a story of Bill and Tim making jokes about becoming baristas while they brewed coffee for the first trip to Old Fort Park back in February. They kept blowing breakers in the church, as they grilled pancake after pancake. Camaraderie came ever so naturally and continued to flow as new friendships were made at the park.

Hampton said the group comes from The Experience Community, but they don’t force their beliefs on the people they help.

“Instead of pushing God down their throats – everybody else does that – we want to be different than that. Jesus never did that … we want to love by our actions and not just our words.”

A Calling

Taking the time to listen to her new friends has proved humbling for Hampton.

“They don’t have to let us into their lives,” she said. “I’m not better than them. They’re some of the coolest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. Their stories – there’s just something so pure about them.”

Many realize they’ve messed up – some admit it and want to remedy their mistakes, and others aren’t quite ready to turn around.

“God continues to teach us about his life and his blessing,” she said. “Nobody is ever too far gone. A lot of people have messed up. They’ve messed up big time and they know it, but it’s cool to sit there and talk to them and reassure them that they can get back up on their feet again. Reminding them is almost like reminding me, too.”

Hampton calls it “God’s grace in action,” but doesn’t mean it in a cheesy way.

“I cry a lot, but it’s not a sad cry. It’s like, this is beautiful, and I’m so lucky to be a part of this. I do not deserve to be the one God chose to be a part of it, but I thank him for it every day,” she said.

They may not know why they were chosen, but the crew is willing to follow God’s direction.

“Ultimately, I feel like this is what we’re commissioned to do in the Bible,” Joey Odom said. “We’re commissioned to feed the poor and help the needy, and that’s really what we set out for.”

He pointed out the amount of cash that flows through the church and through the community, but Odom can’t ignore the homeless population right in the middle of it all.

“There are a lot of affluence when it comes to the church, and we’ve got homelessness right next to the church building,” he said emphatically. “I want to see homelessness eradicated in Murfreesboro. I can’t see why the problem is as big as it is in our area with as much money as we have in our community.”

The group’s offering has been a Godsend for these hungry residents because no other organizations offer meals on the weekends, which Odom said has added to the event’s rapid popularity.

“We’re the only way for them to get food without panhandling on Saturday and Sunday,” Odom said. “You find a watering whole, and you’re going to go if you need to.”

These acts of community service haven’t gone unappreciated by those being fed. In fact, they reciprocated the good deed recently, when the group met to clean up Old Fort Park.

“A lot of our guys live near and around the park, and we thought it would be a good way to get them involved, as well,” Hampton explained.

The group agreed to meet at 10 a.m., but when volunteers arrived, they found their homeless friends had completed most of the work already.

When Hampton mentioned that “it’s more than just feeding people,” she was talking about the level of trust that has grown as relationships have flowered. This is evidenced even by the group’s expectations from other volunteers. Newbies are welcome to observe one weekend, and if they’re interested, they must sign a commitment agreement to volunteer for a minimum of four weeks.

“Lots of these guys don’t have a lot of stability in their lives,” she explained. “They’re used to people coming in and out of their lives. So we don’t want people to just show up at the park.”

There are additional stipulations, like giving up a meal and using that time instead to sit and think and pray about the people being served.

“We’re giving them a meal, so we’re giving up a meal,” Hampton said. “This is not just ‘Hey, look what we’re doing.’”

This, my friends, is dedication and true selflessness straight from the heart.

More Info ...

If you’re interested and willing to make the commitment, send an email to The group requests to have volunteers follow the outlined procedure. Do not show up at Old Fort Park without having contacted the group first.

Tagged under  Charity, Economy, Five Thousand Ministry, Giving Back, Homelessness

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