It was Giving Tuesday, and the Mercy Hill Church was in donation mode.
An orderly line of cars exited a parking lot and made their way to the front of the sidewalk leading to the red brick church. Chests were opened and volunteers dressed in fluorescent-colored T-shirts were deposited in boxes loaded with canned goods, rice, pasta, vegetables and other staples for the grateful drivers.
Although the food distribution coincided with Giving Tuesday, the annual event that encourages charitable giving, it was not a unique occasion. This happens every Tuesday, as part of the church’s mission to serve people in need.
“It’s my favorite day of the week,” said Sherrie Aulds, as she stood near the waiting vehicle check-in station. “I love coming here on Tuesday mornings.”
For three hours each Tuesday, the church serves as a distribution point for food boxes from the St. Mary’s Food Bank. It carries on a legacy of service that stretches back 80 years to the forerunner of Mercy Hill, said Ricky Aulds, one of the pastors of Mercy Hill.
âThis is a great time to connect with those who are struggling,â said Pastor Aulds. “It’s a way of giving back. God created us for the community.”
Food distribution serves around 200 families every week
The church’s work extends far beyond the hustle and bustle of the weekly food distribution, an effort, according to Aulds, serves more than 200 families, or up to 1,000 people, per week.
An addiction support group meets on Wednesdays, Fridays, the Hope Closet opens to provide clothing, and there is service on Sundays at 10:30 am. Counseling on issues ranging from spiritual health to behavioral health is ongoing.
When the church moved to its current location in downtown Phoenix, administrators added a gymnasium and senior housing. They have entered into a long-term housing agreement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The campus is very busy, especially on Tuesdays, when several dozen volunteers arrive to distribute boxes of food.
For Cheryl Fulford, the church was an unexpected lifeline.
A friend had invited the newly sober and sober Fulford to join her for a church service. Fulford didn’t want it; she feared to be judged and despised. But months of perseverance have paid off.
âAfter three months of listening, I said, ‘OK, I’m going there once,'” Fulford recalls.
That first visit four years ago turned into a weekly church attendance, which led to working with the food distribution effort and ultimately safe and affordable housing on the campus of the ‘church.
âEveryone here is very welcoming,â Fulford said as she sorted the cans in her role as supervisor of the dry goods storage room. “They are very, very nice.”
For Ricky Aulds, this is the kind of transformation the church hopes to bring to the community. In addition to his role as one of the church’s four pastors, he is the ministries coordinator for Mercy Ministries, a separate, nonprofit organization associated with the church that exists to expand its denominational services across- beyond basic church operations.
He remembered a woman who, like many, came to church for food assistance. She eventually attended a church service and Aulds remembers being moved to tears by a song. She then disappeared, being part of the transient population entering and leaving the city center of the church.
Months later, Aulds said, she arrived (in an air-conditioned car, he noted) to report that she had found a job and was receiving help with behavioral health issues.
âShe had a big smile on her face, and she just wanted to drop by and say ‘Thank you’,â he said.
These stories are what fuels his ministry, said Aulds, who has been at the church for six years.
âWe want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and meet people where they are,â he said.
People come from across the Phoenix subway to help
The Triangle neighborhood that surrounds the church, located on Fillmore Street just west of Seventh Avenue, is rapidly becoming bourgeois. An apartment complex is expected to rise in a nearby corner, hampering the current food distribution system.
Aulds said they would adapt.
âWe want to stay here,â he said. “We want to make sure there is a church in this part of town.”
Customers for the church’s charitable efforts come from all over. Volunteers too, said Sherrie Aulds. Some arrive on Mondays to pack dry goods; others show up on Fridays when the clothes closet is open.
âIt’s all word of mouth,â she said, noting that many volunteers are associated with other churches in the valley but come to Mercy Hill to give back.
Sherrie said she got married to the ministry when she married Ricky three years ago. She is the Executive Director of Mercy Ministries.
Mercy Ministries has a relationship with Arizona State University, whose downtown Phoenix campus is a few blocks east. Students in the university’s SHOW program (for Student Outreach for Wellness) volunteer at church to meet a variety of health-related needs.
The Aulds plan to expand the church’s work beyond relief programs such as the clothes closet and food boxes.
“We are looking to do more rehabilitation and development work as we continue,” said Ricky Aulds, adding that there is early planning for periodic “care parties” that would help people become self-sufficient. by giving them access to medical care. education and various social services.
For now, the church is looking for more help, both manpower and financial support.
For example, it costs the church $ 150 to buy sturdy cardboard boxes for a week that are used for food distribution. Aulds said the donations would help offset that cost.
Volunteers are welcome for Monday shifts packing dry goods, as well as Tuesday morning work on food distribution.
More information is available on the church website at merciministriesphx.com
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