Must Ministries: Christmas Toy Shop Grand Opening

Kristin Harrison, Sr. Manager of Seasonal Programs, smiles as she leads the tour through the Must Ministries Toy Shop on Thurs, Nov. 30, 2017 in Marietta, Ga -- Photo by Jessica Cornwall

 Donald Hausfeld spent his life working in real estate development. So, in 1994, as he oversaw the placement of a sewer easement through a very low-income trailer park, he started his day like any other workday.

As Hausfeld stood in the hot, Georgia sun, a van pulled up. Inside, were Must Ministries volunteers, delivering summer lunches to underprivileged children, who would be provided free lunches at school during the year. When summer came, that meant one less meal they could count on.

The van door opened and 50 children came pouring out of the surrounding trailers. The trailers were small, rented by the night. Some of the children were not wearing shirts, some not wearing shoes. They ran to the women leaning out from the van. The children clearly knew them, and chattered away as they excitedly gathered their lunch— a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

One little girl hungrily snatched her sandwich from the volunteer before running as fast as her small legs could carry her back to her trailer. She emerged moments later, darting back up to the van, hands outstretched once again.

“Gosh,” the volunteer said. “You ate that fast!”

“No ma’am,” the little girl responded. “I put half of it on my pillow, so that I can eat dinner tonight.”

Hausfeld was shocked, and something inside him was changed forever.

“I went home that night and said ‘how, in this area, in an economy that is doing well, are there children that don’t have a meal?,’ Hausfeld says. “How is that even conceivable to me?”

In 2017, Hausfeld has been involved with Must Ministries for thirty years. He currently serves as the Chair of their Board of Directors. Right now, he stands at the faculty and volunteer opening of Must Ministries new donation center, and Christmas Toy Shop. Surrounding him are dozens of other faculty members and volunteers who have made this Christmas outreach possible.

Watch the Slideshow

Kristin Harrison, Sr. Manager of Seasonal Programs, smiles as she leads the tour through the Must Ministries Toy Shop on Thurs, Nov. 30, 2017 in Marietta, Ga — Photo by Jessica Cornwall

Donated blankets at the Must Ministries’ Toy Shop on Thurs, Nov. 30, 2017 in Marietta, Ga — Photo by Jessica Cornwall

Buckets holding hats, underwear, and socks at the Must Ministries’ Toy Shop on Thurs, Nov. 30, 2017 in Marietta, Ga — Photo by Jessica Cornwall

Chris Fields, Executive VP, Yvonne Byars, Senior Director of Volunteer Services, and Donald Hausfeld, Chairman of the Board of Directors, watch as Dwight Reighard, CEO, cuts the ribbon to open the new Must Ministries’ Toy Shop and donation center in Marietta on Thurs, Nov. 30, 2017 –Photo by Jessica Cornwall

The Christmas tree displayed during the Toy Shop ribbon cutting event on Thurs, Nov. 30, 2017 at Must Ministries’ new location in Marietta, Ga — Photo by Jessica Cornwall

A section of the Must Ministries toy shop at their new location, Thurs. Nov. 30, 2017, in Marietta, Ga — Photo by Jessica Cornwall

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The Weight of the World on Their Shoulders

Must Ministries is a non-profit organization that serves Cobb and Cherokee counties, and provides about 1,000 items of donated clothing per day to various homeless and underprivileged groups. That number includes the 72 people that live in the long-term housing provided at the organization’s Elizabeth Inn, and the 113 people who reside at Must Ministries’  supportive housing. They have housed 180 people per night, 365 days a year, for decades. This is not even the tip of the iceberg of service the non-profit provides. On top of the large number of clothing donations gathered, sorted, and distributed by volunteers—they also provide about one ton of food a day to stock their 27 food pantries currently housed in local schools. Despite the work to do at home, Must Ministries sends donations and volunteers to aid in crises like Hurricane Irma and the wildfires that ravaged Gatlinburg. This new facility, at 26,000 square feet, will provide more space for volunteers to gather and sort donations. Despite Must Ministries’ large outreach, they still struggle under the weight of such a large number of the Cobb and Cherokee communities living in poverty.

Ashley Allen works as Must Ministries Grant Manager, and witnesses the struggles the non-profit faces every day to keep their level of service stable and growing.

“There are so many homeless women and children, they aren’t panhandling at the stop light,” Allen says. “We turn away about 250 people a month, all separate individuals at the Elizabeth Inn—74 percent of them are women and children. That’s why you don’t see it. They are sleeping in their cars.”

The Christmas Toy Shop, and Donation Center Ribbon Cutting

The Toy Shop is an annual outreach provided by Must Ministries. People who are in need can register for a time to come shop. On the date they are assigned, they arrive at the location and are led into a room, lined floor to ceiling with Christmas toys for children. They can select one large item or two small items for each of their children.

“This is a place that you can come in the door, and say ‘I am lost,’” Hausfeld says. “And you are going to have a kind soul talk to you, and help direct you.”

Christmas decorations cover the walls of the ribbon-cutting event. A Christmas tree in the corner is surrounded by donated toys. Music is playing softly in the background, but somehow it is drowned out by the deafening emotion and passion that fills every corner of this space.

“Last year we put back into a stabilized job, and a stabilized lifestyle, almost 500 people,” Hausfeld says. “We help build them, their self-esteem, because when they come to us and ask for a bed, they don’t have any. We are their last stop.”

As the night wears on, Chris Fields, Executive Vice President, stands to begin the program that will end in the tour of the toy shop and donation center. He speaks of the hidden poverty, and struggle, that exists in such overwhelming numbers right beneath this community’s feet.

“Today, on the doorsteps of our community, there are 75,000 people who are living at or below the poverty level,” Fields says. “Must, and this new building, sits at the intersection of this community and the challenges that those who are living on the margins face.”

Dwight Reighard, CEO of Must Ministries, finishes the program with an emotional call for perspective: perspective that families living comfortably above poverty often lose.

“We want to lift people up, we want to encourage them,” Reighard says. “They’ll go into the back and they’ll be treated nicer than they would be at Nordstrom’s. They’ll get to go back there, and get those toys, but you know what they’ll be most excited about and this is so hard to believe sometimes, but it’s going to be gloves. It’s going to be scarves, it’ll be socks, it’ll be underwear. Not the traditional things that you think of, but for some families, that’s such a luxury.”

The tour of the facility begins. The first room is dedicated to young children, babies to elementary school age. The room adjacent to this one holds items suitable for middle school to high school aged children. The toys are not broken or dirty, or “less-than.” They are pristine, new, and popular. Each carefully organized and placed by loving volunteer’s hands. They are toys any child would love. In the middle of the room sit the bins that Reighard had mentioned in his speech. Sorted by sex and size, buckets of socks, scarves and underwear. Many of which are knitted by volunteers.

Tears of awe and grateful realization are welling up in the viewer’s eyes. Each step further into the room is made softly, as if entering a church. Hausfeld is correct, as he refers to the space as “hallowed ground.”

To the right, a rack is pushed against the wall. On it hangs an assortment of warm, soft, blankets. Many of the blankets are hand-made. They are created with love by people who do not even know who the time and effort they are sacrificing is going to. If you run your fingers along the edges of the cloth, each piece seems to tell a story. Perhaps a woman sewing a quilt, feeling so lucky she is that her own daughter is tucked away safely in bed, thinking of another little girl, who is spending this night cold. Maybe a grandmother, sewing the lining onto a knitted blanket, remembering the blanket she made for her husband when he wrote home from the war of the cold nights in Korea. Imaginably man who walked into a department store, and purchased every comforter they sold, because before he was the holder of this metal, black, credit card, he had spent two years living out of his car, wrapped in a blanket that has been given to him.

Yvonne Byars, Senior Director of Volunteer Services, has a poem she feels fitting. And as the tour is over, and the group begins to trickle away, the words she speaks still warm the attendees’ hearts as they make their way out of the building into the chilly December air.

“The poem is by Kelly Roper,” Byars says, “and it reads, ‘Because of you someone will have enough to eat tonight. Someone will have decent clothes to wear. Someone will have shelter. Someone will receive medical care. Someone will learn the skills that they need to survive and succeed. Someone knows that at least one person in this world cares. This world is a better place because you gave of your time, your talents, and your treasures.’”

To get involved visit Must Ministries’ website https://www.mustministries.org/, or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mustministries/?ref=br_rs

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Jessica Cornwall

Jessica Cornwall is a senior at Kennesaw State University. She is studying journalism and plans to pursue a career in magazine editing and production. She lives in Marietta with her young son and two cats.