Going and Loving the Homeless in Downtown Knoxville

Sometimes God has things planned for you to do that you know nothing about until they happen. Sometimes you may have a desire inside of you and have no idea why it is there. Sometimes you need friends to help you push through fear and do that brave thing that might just be the Holy Spirit tapping you on the shoulder. And sometimes, when you do that brave thing (with the help of others) your world is rocked and is more full of God moments and tangible grace and His love than you have ever seen and experienced before. Read on to find a story of how a burger for a homeless man has multiplied into a ministry that impacts dozens of Knoxville’s homeless.

I woke up one morning determined that “today was going to be the day” for some reason. For a couple of years I have had this desire to go downtown and have lunch with someone who is homeless. I know— it’s weird. I wanted to sit down in a restaurant, get to know someone and pay for their meal. I wanted to get to know them–like really know them (unsure how I thought that could be accomplished through one meal). I had asked different friends at different times if they were interested in doing that with me sometime, but it never panned out. Then this October I got a part-time job where I work in downtown Knoxville. It rekindled or reminded me of that desire.

So, for some odd reason, one day I decided THAT day was going to be the day. I wasn’t brave enough to accomplish this goal on my own so I asked two co-workers if they wanted to go on an adventure with me during lunch. I told them what the adventure was and they agreed. We walked down Gay Street a little, through Krutch Park and on into Market Square, looking for someone who looked like they could use a meal that day. It was funny because we were trying to be discerning and my friend had already mentioned a certain man who probably wouldn’t need food because she herself had already been buying him meals from time to time. What happened though, was that he was the only one we saw outside that looked like he might want lunch. So, we met Mr. Scott.

The “taking someone to lunch and getting to know them thing” didn’t pan out the way I imagined. I found out that he was embarrassed to go inside of a restaurant with his bags hanging on his wheelchair and that he felt some people might look at him funny. From the moment I met him, I was hooked. I told my friends that it was like something in me opened up when I met him, like a new channel or wave of something fresh broke in and I think some of it was healing.

I cried. Off and on, for days.

Over weeks, on different days, my friends and I took turns buying him meals. We found out more about him, including his favorite meal: a good burger, fries, and a coke in a bottle. I think trust was built and on my part I feel a friendship began; I hope he would say the same. He allowed me into his world and through him I met other homeless men and women and got to know a few of them a little better.

Distributing items on a rainy day in downtown Knoxville

Distributing items on a rainy day in downtown Knoxville

On a Tuesday in Subway, I asked him what kinds of things he needed. He initially said he had everything he needed. Then, through some coaxing and throwing out ideas, he listed five things: velcro to repair his coat, thermal underwear, gloves with grip on them so he can push his wheelchair and still be warm, a hat, and a little flashlight. At that point Brianne Griggs encouraged me to post those needs on Facebook. I wanted to ask for these things for Mr Scott but also to post because I was floored that a homeless man didn’t initially believe that he needed anything. This idea of getting those items for him morphed into something bigger and from then on, people have been donating items to give to the homeless men and women Brianne and I come in contact with downtown each Wednesday.

I have felt ill-equipped and wondered what was going on and if I was going to mess something up somehow. I have no idea what God is doing, but each week the car is filled with food and donations for these new friends downtown. I kept feeling like there were certainly other more qualified people who are trained to do this kind of stuff and that someone else should be in charge. Time and time again it has been confirmed to me to just keep on going with it and watch what God does. Countless people, friends and family and friends of friends I have never met (even some out of state) continue to offer up blessings in the form of coats, hats, hand warmers, and food each week.

None of this would happen without all of these people and especially not without Brianne Griggs. Brianne has been instrumental in getting the word out about what is going on and letting people know what specific items we are searching for, meeting people to gather donated items, and going faithfully with me downtown each week with her three little children to love on these people. This is truly her heart to serve others without expecting anything in return.

There have been many God moments with people downtown. Perfect items are matched with people who had been wishing they had that exact item. There was a day that there was a pair of men’s shoes in my hand and a man walked up and asked for that exact size. Those were meant to be his shoes. There is a lady who likes to crochet and is now, due to donations, able to make a baby blanket for her new granddaughter. There was a man possibly about to go to jail soon who was encouraged by clothes and diapers for his son. This man hugged me and said, “You all must be Christians if you are out here doing this.” We hadn’t mentioned Jesus at all. There have been things almost daily that have happened to me personally where I have stood more amazed at God than I have ever been before. I wondered about how I would feed Mr. Scott each week and then gift cards to Subway were given. I was worried about the extra gas money and someone handed me money that was “in case I mentioned the word gas,” and in thinking on the future and continuing to pay for these things, without me asking a large sum was donated to continue doing this. So, I think, for now that means GO. Do this.

And here is the thing, I’m just me and Brie is (awesome) Brie and this morphed into something we had never planned or imagined. Anyone can do this. I woke up one morning and decided to do something about a desire I’d had for years. I encourage anyone to do the same. I encourage anyone to join  us if able, but also to look for ways to serve others around them. Mr. Scott has blessed my life by allowing me into his. He’s super amazing at quoting scripture. He’s got a little Jesus Calling book now that he reads daily and it encourages him (you know who you are that gave that to him). He’s clothed in things from at least 10-15 different people, from head to toe—a coat, shoes just for him, a sweater, a warm hat and gloves—and it makes me cry knowing who sent each article with love. He’s not the only one though. There are probably 30 or so people walking around downtown Knoxville with a little piece of a friend or family member’s donations. Each item showing kindness and saying, “You matter, I see you, and I love you.”

Since writing this article, God has continued to provide donations for people in downtown Knoxville (from local people and even friends and family out-of-state) and I believe we have been going downtown and visiting with people and bringing those donations for about three months now. What was originally a team of two people serving 5 or 6 friends that we visited with, now averages 8-10 people serving around 40 or 50 people each trip that we make downtown. Friendships are being made, and I believe that is what is important. It isn’t about the donations— the donations are just a way to get conversation started and build trust. It’s about showing love and giving dignity to other fellow human beings. It’s about getting to know people right where they are and making sure they know that they are not alone and that God loves them. And so, we Go and Love.

If you would like to donate items for the homeless in Knoxville or to find out how you can help, please fill out the form below.

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