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Residents walk to support homeless

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

Hundreds of Marion residents walked a mile in the shoes of the homeless in freezing temperatures on Saturday morning.

Walk a Mile is a fundraiser that benefits the Grant County Rescue Mission, which helps the homeless population in Grant County by providing three hot meals every day as well as offering them a place to stay.

The Rescue Mission reported more than 57,000 meals served and nearly 15,000 overnight stays in 2017 alone. The Rescue Mission also recently started their Life Change Ministries program to combat the addiction crisis in Grant County. Volunteers at the Rescue Mission help those battling addiction to any substance and show them a better way of coping and loving themselves by using the Bible’s teachings, according to Men’s Program Director Neal Kirbyn.

Frant Reed has stayed at the Rescue Mission since September 2017, during his battle with alcoholism. He said he joined the Life Change program in October, and has since started to like himself again with the teachings of Kirbyn and others. He said seeing people at the Y ready to walk a mile in his shoes in the cold warmed his heart.

“A lot of people make assumptions about the people who stay at the Rescue Mission,” Reed said. “Once they get to know me and my story, and that there are people like me there trying to better themselves, they understand what we’ve gone through a little better.”

Registration for the event was free, but walkers are encouraged to raise money in the community for the homeless shelter prior to the walk. On Saturday, walkers ate breakfast and drank coffee at the Y before walking half a mile to the Rescue Mission on South Gallatin Street, and walking another half mile back to the Y.

Leanna Smith, an event organizer with the Rescue Mission, said the Walk a Mile event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the homeless shelter, and the money raised will sustain the shelter through the spring and summer.

“We do this to give people a glimpse into the lives of the homeless population in Grant County,” Smith said. “Even when they stay with us, if they want to see their family or go to a doctor’s appointment they have to find their own way. Many times, that means walking in temperatures like this.”

She said last year, around 150 walkers registered and raised around $13,000, meaning each walker raised an average of about $85. Organizers estimated prior to the event that around 300 walkers joined them in the frigid temperatures. Volunteers said the goal for walkers this year was 500, which they said was “an impossible dream.” Smith also said she expected they would meet their $25,000 fundraising goal.

Following the mile round trip walk to the Rescue Mission, organizers counted the walkers and money raised. They reported more than 500 walkers braving the freezing temperatures for the Rescue Mission and over $27,000 raised, exceeding both goals.

“When we initially set our goal, we were shooting for the stars. But we’ve exceeded that and we just can’t believe it,” Smith said. “We’re so thankful to live in a community that loves and supports us and trusts us to be good stewards. It’s so good to see people willing to take care of our most vulnerable people in the community and see that they are taken care of with a warm bed, place to stay and nutritious meals.”