Union Mission Heightens Outreach During Holidays

By Michael Waddell

Memphis Union Mission is ramping up its efforts to help the homeless during the holiday season.

The Memphis Union Mission is ramping up its efforts to help the homeless during the holiday season. It started with the recent Great Thanksgiving Banquet.

(Memphis Union Mission)

The nonprofit group just completed its annual Thanksgiving event late last month to feed the homeless, and preparations are underway for meals and services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The mission’s annual Thanksgiving banquet for the homeless was a huge success.

“This year we were able to serve nearly 700 meals,” said Steve Carpenter, Memphis Union Mission director of development. “We’ve been doing our Great Thanksgiving Banquet for many years, and each year it gets better and better.”

Estimated attendance was higher than normal this year likely due to cold weather driving some people inside for a hot meal.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas time really means a lot for many of the men who don’t have homes or for one reason or another have become distant from their relatives,” said Randy Daniels, Memphis Union Mission pastor and director of volunteer and food services. “It’s important for them to have a normal Thanksgiving with turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and homemade pies. In a very small way it reconnects them to feelings they had when they were growing up and reminds them that all is not lost; there is hope.”

Carpenter and Daniels give credit to partner Corky’s Ribs & BBQ Memphis, which donated and smoked approximately 100 turkeys for the meals.

“They smoked all of the turkeys for us for free. That really made the preparation much easier because we did not have to cook everything in our kitchen,” said Carpenter, who explained that the mission holds its annual event on Wednesdays each year so as to not conflict with the city’s Dinner for the Homeless and Hungry held on Thanksgiving Day at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Other items on the menu this year included spiral-cut ham, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, corn, sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing, rolls, dessert and sweet tea.

“We had 150 volunteers who worked on our three meals, and many of them brought in homemade pies and cakes that we used for desserts,” said Daniels.

The mission is currently preparing for its candlelight Christmas Eve service for men to be held at its Downtown location. Each attendee will get a Christmas care package.

“Right now and through Christmas Eve, people in the community will get shoe boxes and fill them with basic toiletries, maybe a winter cap, a pair of gloves, some underwear, some socks, and then wrap them up with Christmas paper and drop them off,” Carpenter said. “We will be collecting them until Christmas Eve and then we will start giving them out.”

Christmas meals will be served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The mission operates six facilities in the Memphis area on a budget of $3.5 million per year, all coming from private donations.

“It’s all made possible by the generosity of the Memphis community,” Carpenter said. “About 85 percent comes from individual donors, and the remaining amount comes from local companies, churches and civic groups.”

Facilities include a Downtown emergency center and opportunity center with extended-stay opportunities for working homeless men transitioning into having a place of their own. The mission also runs a long-term recovery program for men at its 160-acre, Calvary Colonies facility near Shelby Farms Park as well as a recovery home for women and children at its Moriah House in East Memphis.

“We also have a group of five three-bedroom houses also near Shelby Forest, where we can take in intact homeless families while they are working and transitioning back into the community,” Carpenter said.

Memphis Union Mission opened in 1945 and has grown to today having a staff of 30.

This year the mission debuted a new 90-day program called “Re-Entry” for formerly incarcerated men transitioning back into the community.

The mission’s ultimate objective is for clients to become mature disciples of Jesus Christ, achieve freedom from substance abuse, reunite with family and loved ones, and re-emerge as responsible, self-sufficient members of the community.

The main fundraiser for the Memphis Union Mission takes place in May at its annual golf tournament at Windyke Country Club.