Kelly Greene might disagree, but the woman is an angel among us. Feeding our community’s homeless population has been a longtime passion for her and her family. They even reserve each Christmas morning for feeding the hungry, a tradition that has since blossomed into a full-time, life-changing nonprofit. Today, as Founder and Executive Director of Food For Our Journey (FFOJ), Kelly has taken that passion to the streets, partnering with restaurants, volunteers and agencies across the city to hand out nearly 160,000 meals in 2020 alone. We were moved, humbled and inspired to hear her story. Meet Kelly Greene, our newest FACE of Birmingham.
What inspired you to found Food For Our Journey?
My husband and I have always participated in feeding the homeless with our children, and one of the things we had noticed over time was that you didn’t see everybody every time. Sometimes if it was storming or snowing, or because of transportation issues, people couldn’t always make it.
We go to Prince of Peace in Hoover, and I sing in our rock praise and worship band on Sunday night. Father was preaching about our backpack ministry, where we fill backpacks for food-insecure schoolchildren. It just kind of popped in my brain, and I wrote it on a piece of paper: “Food truck for the homeless: We take the food to them.” My husband looked at me and said, “That’s it.” So we left there that night, and whichever of my college-age-and-older kids are around, we always have a Sunday night family dinner together, and they loved the idea.
So, we got up the next morning, and it’s kind of surreal. It’s just an idea, and you’re like, “It’s never gonna happen. We’ll never be able to do anything like this.” But we started making calls, and every call was affirming. Whether it was about a business license, health department regulations, starting a nonprofit 501(c)(3), insurance … and even if a door didn’t open, then a window would. My initial thought was to do a food truck where we would prepare their food. Then we started realizing there’s already food out there, and we actually could do two things: eliminate food waste by partnering with restaurants, hotels, catering companies, you name it, because I’m a nonprofit, and they can donate that to me. And two, our goal in all of this was to build a relational ministry. Not only are you feeding the person, but by breaking bread together, we’re getting to know them and they’re getting to know us. They’ll begin to hopefully share with us and tell us, “This is what I need” — whether it’s getting their birth certificate so they can get their ID so they can apply for a job, accessing their bank account, needing medications … Everybody’s story is different. It gives us an opportunity to help them by plugging them into the different agencies we partner with who can help them meet the goals they’ve set for themselves.
So not only are we trying to nourish the body, it’s the body, it’s the soul and it’s the person — their hopes and dreams for themselves.
Besides monetary donations, how can people get involved?
People have started SignUpGeniuses and had get-togethers where they set up tables in the neighborhood cul-de-sac, and everybody would mask up, glove up, and make lunch sacks with meat-and-cheese sandwiches and throw in a bag of potato chips, homemade cookies and some fruit. They would bring cases of water. We also have a food drive at Our Lady of Sorrows every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and people bring us every kind of food you can think of, masks, bags, and clothes. We have a group from Independent Presbyterian Church, and every week they’ll do anywhere from 50 to 100 hot meals. So it’s incredible. There’s no way we could do what we do without the volunteers.
Another thing that helps is hygiene bags — basically gallon zip-lock bags that contain hand sanitizer, body wash, shampoo, deodorant, sanitary napkins, masks, Advil, any kind of toiletry-type items. And this time of year, hot hand warmers, skull caps, gloves, blankets, sleeping bags, socks, and backpacks for people to keep all their stuff in. The numerous ways that people donate time and food … it’s mind-boggling.
What is your background?
I originally wanted to do psychiatric counseling with teenagers, but I never finished that, so I got involved with youth ministry and then became a stay-at-home mom. Then, when the kids were in school, I got my real estate license so I could still be flexible and do all the stuff with the kids and coach the volleyball teams and softball teams, that kind of stuff. This was really me getting back into ministry again.
How does your therapy and ministry background inform your work with FFOJ?
Honestly, if I have to really pinpoint it, when I was a child, my parents kept the main phone on their desk in the living room, and there was a Bible verse from Luke right next to the phone that basically says, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and that every blessing we have is supposed to be shared. You have to take your talent and do something with it. You can’t just keep it. I stared back at that Bible verse my whole life, and honestly, that’s what’s determined the decisions we’ve made.
What is most challenging about your work?
It’s exhausting. And you never can do enough. There are just so many people, and right now with COVID, there are so many more.
What is most rewarding?
Getting to be with the people. We’re all God’s children, and we work with all agencies and denominations and religions, and it doesn’t matter. We’re all on this journey together and we get to be together, and that’s what’s awesome. And getting to do it with our family and our kids; my son rode with me this morning, and my husband rode with me this afternoon. To get to serve with each other is great.
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How many people do you serve a day?
Our average meal count today is anywhere from 400 to 700. We had a goal of a little over 11,000 meals for our first year, around 24,000 at most. I don’t have my final numbers yet for 2020, but I’m going to be close to 160,000 meals. And this is the first year. That, in large part, is because of COVID, I’m sure. I mean, so many people have lost homes; they’ve lost jobs. They have children and family. Maybe they still have a place to live and can pay the power bill, but they don’t have enough to go to the grocery store.
What is your best piece of advice?
Vaya con Dios. It’s “Go with God.” If I could live that saying, then everything else would fall into place because God is love. If you love as an action — not a feeling — but just love, there’s nothing better in the world.
Name three light-hearted things you can’t live without.
The beach, definitely music, and laughter.
For more information on how you can volunteer or support Food For Our Journey, visit foodforourjourney.org.
All photography provided.
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