Paul and Verdie Davis of Austintown have been volunteering every Tuesday at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley since they were in their 60s.
"I felt useless. Nothing to do," Verdie confesses. "We got a letter from Rescue Mission regarding volunteer training. I looked at the date on the letter, and we couldn't make it. Then a little slip of paper fell out. The date had been changed."
Now, almost 20 years later, at ages 84 and 83, the two still serve the mission.
"We've done about everything," Paul said, smiling.
Working hard: Today, they are sorting through a mound of clothes donated to the mission for the clothing ministry.
While Paul and Verdie work diligently preparing clothes for distribution, on the other side of the Rescue Mission building on Glenwood Avenue, people are gathering outside to "shop" for clothes and household items.
A mother walks through the door with three children at her side.
Although she is shy and reserved, the children are exuberant.
"Mom! Look! Book bags!" one of them squeals.
The children rummage through the pile of backpacks while mom searches for school clothes.
The image: "Most people, when they think of the Rescue Mission, think of emergency food and shelter," says Linda Sherrard, director of public awareness at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley. "We do so much more than that."
I was beginning to understand what she meant. This building was filled with special people helping special people.
I spy the three children again. One is carrying a stuffed animal. Another is pushing around a Little Tikes car.
"Can I have this?" he asks the Rev. David Sherrard, executive director of the Rescue Mission.
"Certainly," he responds.
The boy's eyes light up and he runs to tell his mother.
"We are here solely to be of service to those that need our service," explains the Rev. Mr. Sherrard. "We are concerned with meeting the need of that person."
For some, the need is food and clothing. For others, it is counseling. For people like Paul and Verdie, the need is to feel useful and to serve.
"Youngstown has something very precious here," says Mr. Sherrard, who has spent 31 years in mission ministry.
He and his wife, Linda, have spent the past 12 years in Youngstown.
No government help: "The Rescue Mission has grown immensely since we have been here," Mr. Sherrard explains and is quick to add that they receive no government funding.
"We are dependent upon the Lord, not the government," Mr. Sherrard smiles. "Day after day, month after month, year after year, he has never failed us or forsaken us."
That says a lot for an organization that serves 90,000 meals a year and houses up to 144 individuals each night.
He never knows where the next donation will come from: bread from a local baking company, corn from a local farmer, nonperishable food items from a local store, clothes from a local resident.
Gifts from donors that the reverend thanks God for every day.
Yet, without volunteers like Paul and Verdie, the gifts would sit unused.
Mr. Sherrard is thankful for them as well.
Fulfilling needs: Then there are the three children running through the clothes racks.
Mom, still looking sheepish, is carrying a bag full of school clothes. The three children are glowing. The youngest one, with the Little Tikes car, now has a football helmet on his head and a pair of roller skates over his shoulder.
Thanks to the generosity of many, Rescue Mission has fulfilled this mother's need -- and then some.
That kind of thankfulness is priceless.
XFor more information about Rescue Mission, call (330) 744-5485.