MURRAY, KENTUCKY – Panhandling is being addressed one of two ways in Murray. To some, it is a nuisance which needs to be eradicated, while to others, it is a legitimate method for meeting basic needs.
Last month, Murray Mayor Jack Rose and the city council asked that city attorney, Warren Hopkins, draft an anti-begging ordinance after Rose said a Murray resident raised a complaint over the number of people begging in the town 0f 18,000.
Rose said he is not against helping the homeless and neither is the city of Murray.
“This is a special community in terms of how people try to take care of people,” Rose said. “We have Need Line which has a lot of services. [Glendale Road Church of Christ] has a food bank and a clothing bank. I believe the Episcopalian church has a program where people can come stay at night in the winter.”
Rose said the problem is that panhandling has been abused.
“Some folks had contacted [people panhandling] and said ‘I’ll buy you a meal, I’ll buy you groceries’ and their response was ‘I don’t want any of that- I want cash,’” Rose said.
Rose said a recent Sixth Circuit Court ruling deemed panhandling protected by the first amendment and the Murray City Council decided to shelve the ordinance for fear of legal backlash.
“At this point I think any consideration of an ordinance is pretty much on hold,” Rose said.
In the meantime, one local church decided to take matters into its own hands.
On Sept. 21, members of the Christian Community Church held an event called Project 32, during which church members filled drawstring bags with a mixture of nonperishable food and toiletry items to either give to Need Line or to someone in need directly.
“The main objective of Project 32 is just to have ready-made toiletry bags to give to people who might be in need-the people who are standing outside of Kroger or Wal-Mart- anyone who doesn’t have these sort of things just readily available,” said Jamie McKenzie, member of Christian Community Church. “We’re thinking maybe if they have nail clippers or if they can take baths they’ll feel more confident to go into a job interview.”
Corrie Johnson, project founder and director, said her 7-year-old daughter, Violet, played a significant role in her inspiration for the event.
“My daughter Violet is very sensitive and aware of people who are holding signs asking for help,” Johnson said. “Whenever she sees somebody she says ‘Mom, they’re holding a sign- we need to help them.’”
After filling a bag herself, Violet confirmed her mother’s words.
“It really helps them because they feel like they are taken care of,” she said. “People with those signs are just hungry and thirsty and dirty because they just need help.”
Johnson said her daughter not only helped provide the idea of a bagging night, but also had a noteworthy influence on its name.
“She emptied out one of her banks into her purse and I wasn’t really paying attention to why, but as we were pulling into Wal-Mart she saw somebody holding a sign,” Johnson said. “We picked up some extra snacks while we were in there, and as we were pulling through the parking lot to give them what we picked up she bolted up into the front seat and dumped out her purse, and I realized what she had done- the money she brought with her was specifically for if she did see anybody needing help, and that was very remarkable to me to be that proactive as a 7-year-old. I counted up what she had and it only came to 32 cents.”
But that is only half of the story.
“When my dad was 6 years old growing up in Granite City, he also left some money that he put in an envelope and dropped in one of the blue mail drop boxes and he had written ‘this is for food, for the poor people,’” Johnson said. “Also in that envelope was 32 cents. And so that’s why we named it this. I think it’s something that kids can be involved in and equally help meet those needs.”
Johnson said the church’s mission and motivation go hand in hand.
“Our goal would be we want to help meet basic needs,” she said. “We want to be able to give a piece of humanity to people who might be struggling to get through the next day. Our motivation is just answering Jesus who said ‘when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, when I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked you gave me clothing.’
Something I am very aware of is how very little money it costs to actually fill one of those bags. It’s just such a small thing. Even buying toothbrushes or fingernail clippers- the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s one of those things where everybody coming together and putting in a little bit of effort goes a long way.”
Those who would like to find out more about Project 32 are encouraged to make use of the contact information below.