For years, leaders from Arizona’s diverse communities have told us: They don’t see themselves reflected in our coverage. They don’t see enough news about good news from their communities. This project is designed to fix that. These are the people who matter in our diverse communities. These are the faces of Arizona.
Link copied to clipboard
It was Giving Tuesday, and Mercy Hill Church was in high giving mode.
An orderly line of cars snaked out of a parking lot and inched toward the front of the sidewalk leading up to the red-brick church. Trunks popped open and volunteers in fluorescent colored T-shirts plopped in boxes loaded with canned goods, rice, pasta, vegetables and other staples for grateful drivers.
Although the food distribution coincided with Giving Tuesday, the annual event that encourages charitable giving, it wasn’t a once-a-year occasion. It happens every Tuesday, as part of the church’s mission to serve a needy population.
“This is my favorite day of the week,” said Sherrie Aulds, as she stood near the check-in post for the waiting vehicles. “I love coming here on Tuesday mornings.”
For three hours every Tuesday, the church serves as a distribution point for food boxes from St. Mary’s Food Bank. It continues a legacy of service that dates back 80 years, to Mercy Hill’s forerunner, said Ricky Aulds, one of Mercy Hill’s pastors.
“It’s a great time to connect with those who are struggling,” Pastor Aulds said. “It’s a way to give back. God has created us for community.”
The church’s work extends far beyond the weekly bustle of the food distribution, an effort Aulds estimates serves more than 200 families, or up to 1,000 individuals, a week.
An addiction support group meets on Wednesday, on Friday the Hope Closet opens to provide clothing, and there is the standing 10:30 a.m. Sunday service. Counseling on matters from the spiritual to behavioral health is ongoing.
When the church moved to its current location in downtown Phoenix, directors added a gym and senior housing. They entered into a long-term housing arrangement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It makes for a busy campus, especially on Tuesdays when several dozen volunteers arrive to pass out food boxes.
For Cheryl Fulford, the church was an unexpected lifeline.
A friend had invited Fulford, newly clean and sober, to join her for a church service. Fulford would have none of it; she was wary of being judged and looked down on. But months of persistence paid off.
“After three months of being bugged, I said, ‘OK, I’ll go one time,'” Fulford recalled.
That first visit four years ago turned into weekly church attendance, which led to work with the food-distribution effort and, eventually, to safe and affordable housing on the church campus.
“Everybody here is very welcoming,” Fulford said as she sorted canned goods in her role as supervisor of the dry-goods storage room. “They’re very, very kind.”
To Ricky Aulds, that’s the kind of transformation the church hopes to provide 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 associated with the church that exists to extend its faith-based services beyond basic church operations.
He recalled one woman who, like many, came to the church for food assistance. She eventually attended a church service, and Aulds remembers her being moved to tears by a song. She later disappeared, part of the transient population that floats in and out of the church’s downtown location.
Months later, Aulds said, she drove up (in a car with air conditioning, he noted) to report that she had found a job and was getting help for behavioral health issues.
“She had a big smile on her face, and she just wanted to come by and say ‘Thank you,'” he said.
These stories are what fuels his ministry, said Aulds, who has been at the church for six years.
“We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and meet people where they’re at,” he said.
The Triangle neighborhood that surrounds the church, located on Fillmore Street just west of Seventh Avenue, is rapidly gentrifying. An apartment complex is slated to go up on a nearby corner, cramping the current food-distribution system.
Aulds said they’ll adjust.
“We want to stay here,” he said. “We want to make sure a church is present in this area of the city.”
Clients for the church’s charitable efforts come from all over. So do the volunteers, Sherrie Aulds said. Some arrive on Monday to box up dry goods; others show up on Friday when the clothes closet is open.
“It’s all word of mouth,” she said, noting many volunteers are associated with other churches in the Valley but find their way to Mercy Hill to give back.
Sherrie said she married into the ministry when she wed Ricky three years ago. She serves as 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) are volunteering at the church to help with various health-related needs.
The Aulds have plans to extend 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,” Ricky Aulds said, adding there is early planning for periodic “care fests” that would help people move toward self-sufficiency by providing access to medical care, English-language instruction and various social services.
For now, the church is looking for more help, both in manpower and financial support.
For example, it costs the church $150 to buy a week’s worth of the sturdy cardboard boxes that are used for food distribution. Aulds said donations would help offset that cost.
Volunteers are welcome for Monday shifts boxing up dry goods, as well as the Tuesday morning work on distributing the food.
More information is available on the church’s website at mercyministriesphx.com
Reach the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
Link copied to clipboard
Jump back to the top to see newer articles.