Walk for the Homeless brings Waco community together

EMPOWERMENT | Volunteers continues the 1.2 mile walk through Waco, with stops at seven local homeless shelters. The group took time to meet and pray at each shelter. The event was hosted by Mission Waco, but included participants from all over the Waco community. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

The Waco community, led by Mission Waco, will take to the streets Sunday morning for the 13th annual Walk for the Homeless. The event coincides with the 26th anniversary worship service of Church Under the Bridge.

The walk begins at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Meyer Center, in Waco, where brand new shoes will be distributed to the homeless from the Waco community. Through this effort, Mission Waco moves away from its traditional empowerment method to the relief model, said Jimmy Dorrell, president of Mission Waco.

“Americans are terribly committed to sort of this give away stuff, which in our mind does more harm than good,” Dorrell said. “Part of the walk is the shoes for the homeless. Every year for the last 10 years, we raise money. We kind of break from tradition on the walk, and people give, make donations, and then we take them down to Academy and let them pick out their own shoes, and then we give them to them at the walk.”

Dorrell said about 80 people will receive shoes on Sunday through fundraising efforts. This year, Baylor head football coach Matt Rhule, football team members and members of the coaching staff contributed $1,045 dollars to the shoes for the homeless. Dorrell said the money allowed for each shoe recipient to also receive a metal tumbler to keep drinks hot or cold.

Participants in the event will then walk 1.2 miles through the streets of Waco, stopping at eight locations along the way. These stops include talks from leaders of homeless organizations across the city such as Compassion Ministries, Waco Family Abuse Center, Caritas and Salvation Army, to name a few.

“It’s huge for the community because it raises awareness,” Kathy Reid, executive director of the Waco Family Abuse Center, said. “I speak to the crowd from the Compassion Ministry balcony, and it’s just so wonderful to see this sea of people… It’s a mass of people from the community that come to let everybody know that they have a commitment for people who are homeless.”

Reid, who has been involved with the Walk for the Homeless since she moved to Waco, said the Family Abuse Center is the largest homeless shelter in Waco and explained that domestic violence is the largest cause of homelessness for women and children.

“Of course, we want to participate because people don’t see domestic violence that way,” Reid said. “The problem is they have nowhere else to go.”

Jill McCall, Executive Director of Compassion Ministries, said her the walk brings awareness about the services available in the city, demonstrating not only what those services are but also why those services are necessary. She said Compassion Ministries offers transitional housing for families suffering from episodic homelessness – often the result of a loss of job, medical issue or domestic violence. This population of the homeless community redefines what people normally think of when they picture homelessness, McCall said. She said there are two things Waco can work on to improve the episodic homelessness situation.

“Two things for Waco to work on I think are increasing the opportunities for employment at a living wage job and then along with that, safe affordable housing. There’s not a lot of that either,” McCall said.

The 26th anniversary worship service of Church Under the Bridge, an organization founded by Jimmy Dorrell and his wife Janet Dorrell in 1992, will follow the walk at 11 a.m.

Rod Aydelotte, photo chief at the Waco Tribune-Herald, said he first got involved with the event through covering it for the newspaper. Aydelotte said he encourages Baylor students and other community members to take advantage of the event.

“It’s a good way to know your community more than anything,” Aydelotte said.

Aydelotte said a lot of people in the community “have no idea who the homeless people are” in the area. He sees this as a roadblock to bringing real, positive change to the community.

“If we don’t take care of the community, then we can’t build up the town,” Aydelotte said. “So I think for the average person, the more you know about the town, the better off it will be.”

*Katie Stewart contributed to this article.