'Having a heart to help': Shared Blessings continues helping community

Oct. 24—Shared Blessings hopes to accomplish three major goals with Shared Blessings Week, which extends through Oct. 29.

The nonprofit ministry's goal is to help people understand the effects of poverty; to celebrate the McAlester-area community's generosity and add another opportunity to come together and change lives.

"We want to create awareness," said Shared Blessings Executive Director Scott Walker. "We want to celebrate all week what the community has done and continues to do though its partnership with us."

Shared Blessings Week kicked off Saturday with a block party and the Everywhere Together Expedition scavenger hunt at Chadic Park. It followed with a Hope House Open House on Monday and a Shared Blessings Open House set Tuesday in the ministry's headquarters at 1558 S. Main St. in McAlester. Various other events continue through Oct. 29 .

On Monday, Walker and Shared Blessings Director of Operations Joey Clark were at an event held at Taco Bob's Fiesta Grille, to informally meet with members of the community and to talk abut Shared Blessings.

Max McNutt, who stopped by their table in the lobby, spoke with Walker and Clark about the impact Shared Blessings has on the community.

"I was telling them I'm so impressed we have an organization in McAlester which covers people who have a need here," McNutt said afterward. "I like the fact that they've integrated others in the community" to partner with the Shared Blessings program, he added.

Shared Blessings offers a number of services to individuals, families, schools and others in the McAlester area, including food, clothing and school supply giveaways and much more.

"We serve about 3,000 a month in some facet," Walker said.

Why does he think Shared Blessings has continued to grow and offer additional programs for 24 years?

"It's the generosity of the community, the overall leadership, the board of directors and Shared Blessings' relationship with the community," Walker said. "The community's generosity has enabled Shared Blessings to expand to meet the growing needs. We have a board of directors that oversees all facets of this ministry."

While Shared Blessings is counting its 24th anniversary this year, it all began with a simple act of kindness in 1997.

Local resident Devonna Edwards learned about a junior high boy attending summer camp wearing homemade clothes, Walker said. Those homemade clothes led to the boy getting made fun of and getting into fights.

"Devonna was approached about helping with the need, and the next morning, she was at the camp with clothes for the boy," Walker said.

While that became the first need fulfilled, it's far from the last. The spirit of giving that started with that simple act of kindness continues today.

With the first need fulfilled in 1997, it took a little longer to get Shared Blessings up and rolling. Shared Blessings began in 1998 and moved into its current location off South Main Street that spring. Since its beginnings, Shared Blessings has served thousands.

Shared Blessings works in partnership on many of its activities, including partnerships with churches, schools, organizations and businesses. Walker maintains Shared Blessings is all about partnerships, generosity and sacrifice. It's also about compassion and having a heart to help others.

During the past 10 years alone, Shared Blessings has provided more than 240,000 bags of food to children at 20 area schools through its Nutrition Club. Through the program, Shared Blessings provides food bags to children each weekend to help them avoid hunger issues.

Another of Shared Blessings many activities is Food for Families. Families and individuals can obtain a monthly box of food from Shared Blessings. A photo ID and roof of of residency is required. "We have about 1,000 a month who come to receive food," Walker said. Food for Families is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday.

Shared Blessings also operates the Clothing Store at its main location. For a $2 donation per person, donors can shop once a month at the Clothing Store and select up to four outfits, including two pairs of shoes, socks, underwear and other items. It's open four days a week, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m

Shared Blessings also operates a Beds 4 Kids program. Aware that many children in the McAlester area sleep on a floor, a couch, or with multiple siblings, Shared Blessings works with school personnel to identify those students and buy them a new new bed frame, box springs and mattress, as well as beddings and a pillow, with a special nod to Janet Derichsweiler of E-Angels and Vicars Furniture.

Beds 4 Kids has been in existence for only a few years. "We've supplied about 250 beds to area kids over the past three years," Walker said.

Other programs include Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together: Kiamichi Country, a program to help with critical home repairs for those with low incomes.

Additional programs include Roadmaps, a family mentoring project, which ties in with Transitional Housing, a program for women who graduate out of Hope House designed for them to pay a lower rental rate as they go through a mentoring program,

Walker said he will never forget how Shared Blessings began and how everything that's happened goes back to Devonna Edwards "having a heart to help a kid."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.