Each Saturday following Thanksgiving, Myra Hicks takes friends out to feed people who are homeless. She has men crawl under bridges and lead groups into the woods to find tent cities of people who are hungry. When they find children, they also hand out stuffed animals. This year, because of Hicks, homeless people in four Northern California cities–Vacaville, Fairfield, Vallejo and Sacramento– will receive food, clothes and other gifts as part of her annual post Thanksgiving feast.
“I’m doing a service of praise and gratitude this year,” she said. “I’ll have music and I have a woman speaking about how her life was turned around.”
Hicks explains that she gives “because someone gave to me when I was in need.”
She was once homeless and addicted to crack. “I laid my head wherever I could. I might be hungry and standing out somewhere and somebody would give me $5. People were lenient with me and didn’t fire me when I should have been fired.”
She’s been clean and sober for 19 years. She mended broken relationships, married a good man and was ordained as a minister. Now she answers calls from people in need, spending her own money to buy groceries and driving an hour to deliver them if necessary. She began her personal ministry of feeding people in 2009 when she was living in Vacaville, Ca. She, her husband and five other people went out that Thanksgiving.
“I remember there was a man laying down behind a grocery store,” she recalled. “It was raining and he was laying on cardboard. His clothes were soaked and he was sleeping peacefully. I was touched by how he was so content with where he was.”
Her first giveaway was an all-day event. She rented a community center and gave out personal supplies, soap powder, blankets and haircuts. Her goal that year was to give out 100 plates. She cooked and some of her friends brought over food from their own Thanksgiving meals. They also gave out hot dogs and chips and offered services to help find housing and aid with other necessities. That evening, Hicks held a musical program and passed out gifts, hats, gloves and scarves. She didn’t give out as many meals as she had hoped because she discovered people weren’t hungry when she reached them because so many other churches and organizations give food out to homeless people on Thanksgiving.
It rained that year and Hicks remembers, “One man kept saying, ‘I just want dry feet.'”
The next year, she gave out food and socks. Her team grew to about 20 people. Still, they found they were just one of many groups giving out food. Finally, the third year she switched her efforts and started handing out her meals on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. There were plenty of takers.
What makes Hicks and her friends different from other organizations serving food is that they go to the places where homeless people sleep and where they have created communities, to parts deep into the woods and hidden spots other people avoid.
“When we are finished feeding in one place, we asked people, ‘Where do you think other people are?’ They know,” said Hicks. “They are a tight community.”
Last year, Hicks fed 100 people. “We had turkey, dressing, yams, string beans, macaroni and cheese, cranberries, rolls and dessert. People brought rice and gravy and someone brought a ham. One lady made 65 to 70 pieces of chicken. We always manage to have just what we need.
“The last two years we took out teenagers to help, too,” said Hicks. “We give them the food and they give it to somebody. They are so excited and they get a chance to see that they don’t have it so bad.”
Hicks and her crew will repeat their efforts this Saturday. Her goal: to feed 150 people. They meet at the church and form an assembly line of people and dishes. They pack the meals into Hick’s husband’s truck and head out in a caravan.
Stephanie Crosby was with Hicks that very first Thanksgiving giveaway. “If you do it once, you just feel it,” said Crosby. “We feed people who won’t go to places for food. They look scary and spooky but I say, “There but for the grace of God.’ They are sleeping in their own urine, thinking no one cares. Those are the kind of people Myra reaches out to.”
Darla Davenport-Powell, another member of Hick’s volunteer team, met Hicks in 2006 and they quickly became best friends. “She is selfless, selfless , selfless,” Davenport-Powell said of her friend, who holds other events throughout the year for people in need, offering free haircuts, medical care, clothes and food.
“Myra doesn’t have a lot of money. She has the faith it will come,” her friend said. “What I love most about Myra’s heart is that every day is Thanksgiving. Everyday she lends herself to helping.”
Already, Hicks has created a legacy. Her daughter, Amber Belser, is following in her footsteps, feeding people in her hometown of Sacramento. Hicks and her husband moved to Sacramento recently, too, and so of course, Hicks helps feed the homeless there.
Last Father’s Day, Belser held a barbecue for homeless people and even on her birthday , in lieu of a party, Belser fed 100 people with a community barbecue. Her sons, Hick’s grandchildren, have also joined the family business of giving.
“My older son (12) passes out forks and napkins and people laugh and play football with my two-year-old. It teaches the kids they can get along with everyone,” she said.
There is this too: Hicks had a sister who was homeless and living on the streets of San Francisco. Hicks tried to get her sister to leave the streets and come back home, but she wouldn’t. She told Hicks, “I’m already home.” And when she got sick, the people who were her friends–beggars and homeless people–looked after her, as she had looked after them.
Her sister ended up getting killed in her neighborhood but not before she influenced what Hicks’s personal ministry would be in the future.
Said Hicks, “We may think of someone as a bum, but I never forget that they are somebody’s family member.”