Outreach to city's homeless the face of hunger
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 1:00 PM
A dim streetlight throws shadows across the darkened landscape of Jackson's Battlefield Park. The summer heat is sticky and suffocating, but the four figures standing in the empty parking lot don't seem to notice. Their eyes are fixed on a lone white bus that pulls up just after 11 p.m.
Some of Jackson's homeless turn to makeshift camps off in the woods. This particular camp was home to one of Jackson Street Ministry's regulars, Bobby, who passed away Aug. 19 after being struck by a vehicle.
Kelli Irby of Madison is the first to climb off the bus. She hugs one of the four, an old friend, tightly. The savory scent of hot chicken spaghetti emanates from the bus. She asks the tired, disheveled group to say a simple prayer before their meal.
Irby is a member of the Jackson Street Ministry, a collaboration of local churches dedicated to sharing food, clothes and the grace of God with Jackson's homeless population. The team, largely from Madison and Rankin counties, has gathered every Monday and Wednesday for the last 10 years without fail.
"This ministry, more so than anything I've ever taken part again, is about loving people," said Malcolm Woody, a member of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison. According to Woody, the objective has nothing to do with the items that Jackson Street Ministries provides on their many stops around town.
"It's not about fixing people," said Woody. "Strip everything else away, but love never fails. We hang our hat on that verse."
"Every time we go out, it's an adventure," Irby added. "There are things that just blow me away. It's really cool to me to see faces light up when God answers prayers so specifically as we've got one pair of shoes on the van and this person needs shoes and it's their size."
David "Twin" Womack is a regular visited by Jackson Street Ministries. He lived near a highway bridge in South Jackson for nearly 20 years, survived an a hit-and-run with an 18-wheeler after spending 6 months in the hospital.
During one especially eventful visit, he told Irby about driving to church in his Hoverhound wheelchair. "My mouth dropped open and I was sincerely shocked as I envisioned the route to church that he would have to take to get there. It's a six-mile round trip from his house on Barrett Street to his church in Alta Woods," Irby told the story.
"Buddy Campbell is one of my favorite stories," added Woody. Campbell was a homeless man who could quote entire passages of scripture as if he were a minister. He learned the bible while spending 25 years in prison for murder, and upon his release, successfully turned his life around.
"They have names. They have lives. They have people that they love, people that they lose," explained Irby. "They are people."
To most, the face of hunger is nothing more than a nameless grubby panhandler. To Irby, however, the face of homelessness is a gentle woman named Connie.
Connie, a resident of a camp in the woods near Frontage Road, typically stayed with her Common Law husband Mark. "She was bundled up in a truck on the side of the frontage road one cold night," said Irby "She was there because the men in the camp were drunk and she wasn't going to be a part of it."
For over a year, the group came back to bring Connie gifts of food, prayers and clothing every Wednesday. "She would never let us leave unless we prayed," Irby remembered fondly.
Connie was murdered just days after Irby had last visited her, leaving the volunteers heartbroken. Irby and Woody were asked to speak at Connie's funeral along with the family. Irby shared, "When winter comes, I've still got her blue scarf that she wore and I'll wear it."
In remembrance of her late friend, Irby continues to do all that she can to keep the women of Jackson safe and sound.
For more information about Jackson Street Ministries and how to get involved, contact Malcolm Woody at (601) 345-0265 or email@example.com.