Team Laeth
Team Laeth Story and Philosophy

Team Laeth story and philosophy from church newsletter written by David Mullins (Laeth's dad):                                                                                     
Team Laeth was started in Dec 2012 by my wife Sharon and me. It is named after our son Laeth who was hit and killed by a car on Walnut Grove and Germantown Parkway on August 31, 2012 when he was 22 years old. Laeth was a Marine Corp veteran who was wounded in the Marines.
Devastated by Laeth's death we started Team Laeth with $5,000 of life insurance money as a way to help the homeless and hungry in his memory. We spent about $150 per week for groceries and supplies. The insurance money covered most of the expenses the first year. Since that time Sharon and I have funded Team Laeth with the help of churches (mostly First Church), companies and individuals. Through First Church sponsorship we became an agency of the Mid-South Food Bank which allows us to purchase most grocery items at a small fraction of cost of the items in grocery stores.
Laeth always loved helping others; he would give the shirt off his back to someone who needed it. Laeth and I used to serve homeless men at the Memphis Union Mission with his youth group at Highpoint Church when he was in high school and even after he came back from the Marines. Serving meals to the homeless and hungry in downtown Memphis seemed like an appropriate way to honor his memory.
Team Laeth served our first meal Jan. 10, 2013. We served 50 meals. We have served every Thursday since then except Thanksgiving and Christmas when many others serve meals. We serve 70-120 people per week. We have served over 5,000 meals a year for the last three years.
When we started there were only two of us (Sharon and I) and we needed help. We found that help from those who came to be served. Team Laeth has always been a mix of people on the streets and those from homes. When we started passing out meals in Dec 2012 I met a man named Eric who stayed under the bridge at Madison and Danny Thomas. He gave me some of the ideas we still use today like passing out messages with our meals about who we are and why we do what we do. He told me to serve on Thursdays when there were no other free dinners, not on Fridays that were convenient for us. Eric also connected me with the priest that runs the soup kitchen at St. Mary's who allowed us to serve in their parking lot for about eight months when we started. 
We serve a different great meal each week like meatloaf, pasta with meat sauce, fresh salads, vegetables and fruit. Many have told me Thursday is their favorite meal of the week. They often talk during the day about what we might serve and discuss their previous favorite meals we have served. Some on the street wake up on Thursdays knowing they get a chance to help others which they rarely get a chance to do so they feel better about the day and themselves. Thanks to support from this church, Jacob's Well, Christ United Methodist Church, Mid-South Food Bank, Costco, Panera, Café Eclectic and others we have sustained and improved our services to those in need. We distribute info about shelters, food pantries and other free meals each week along with personal care items when available. Thanks to donations from Helping People God's Way Thrift Store in Cordova we are able to pass out blankets and socks most weeks. We distribute blankets and socks year round because they are needed year round. People sleeping under a bridge or on a loading dock need something soft to lay on all year not just in the winter and clean socks are always appreciated. 
Since many of our volunteers are currently or recently homeless we know what is needed and important like plastic grocery bags, bug spray, and socks. We have built close relationships with those on the street. We don't feed the homeless. Instead, we serve a meal to those in need and build relationships and friendships.
The best example of those relationships and friendships benefiting everyone involved is Demetrius (D) and Valerie (Val). They started out in our line and began helping us shortly after we started serving our meals at First Church in Sept 2013. They were staying in a vehicle in a junk yard at that time but every Thursday they would be here at the church waiting to help us. Since then they have gotten off the street thanks to help from another volunteer who also started out in our line. Val went to high school classes at night taking courses like trigonometry and calculus. She graduated high school (not just a GED) and is attending college classes. D is now also working. Val, D, and other volunteers are now among our best friends.
I give a speech before each meal with a few simple messages: 
• Make sure everyone you love and care about knows it. We don't know who will leave us next but it will probably not be who we expect. 
• Appreciate who and what you have while you have it. Don't spend so much time and energy worrying about what you don't have that you don't appreciate what you still have. People and things can be taken away at any time. 
• You can turn a personal tragedy into a blessing for others. If you have a personal tragedy in your life and you find some way to use it to help others it will help you get through the tragedy. Helping others helps us too. Serving this meal each week helped us get through the loss of our son. Planning, shopping and preparing the meal and getting volunteers gave us something to do each week. When I get too self-absorbed someone tells me their story which is often worse than mine. 
• I ask them to use the energy from the meal to help others in need when they leave.
Everyone gets a chance to help and be a part of something positive not just have a meal handed to them. There is no one who doesn't have a skill we can use. Homeless people help us get ready, clean up and provide excellent security. Our team is VERY diverse. We value diversity and seek it. I believe better ideas come when different viewpoints are brought together. New ideas are run by volunteers for input. I have had many ideas I thought were great but others with different points of view told me why they weren't so great. Everyone at Team Laeth is important and their opinions are valued. When people of different backgrounds work together for a common cause I find people focus on the task at hand and working together as opposed to focusing on their differences.
My main responsibility is to let volunteers do what they feel comfortable and good about doing. I don't want anyone to volunteer and come down here to do something they hate to do. I don't want anyone waking up Thursday feeling miserable because they have to come help us. If that happens then I feel as if I am not doing my job. If someone is uncomfortable dealing with people on the streets we can use their help in the kitchen. If someone is comfortable talking to others and building relationships then that is where they can help.
Since much of our help is from the streets they can’t always make it each week. We could really use some consistent help to provide people that can get here early enough to open cans and get the food started and people to come later to help clean up. We try to leave the church better than we found it both inside and outside. I would also challenge some in the congregation to come at least observe what happens in their church during the week. We all know what happens on Sundays but coming and seeing the life and energy this church has on Thursdays would benefit members of the congregation.
No one has to commit to coming every Thursday or even once a month (though that would be great). Just come down one Thursday to see what goes on so you know what your church is doing during the week. We do everything from planning the meal, picking up supplies, running and updating the website, and designing the business cards. We could use help with all of these tasks. If anyone would like to help with any of these or has any other skills they would like to offer that would help those in need please let us know, we will find a way to use that help or those skills.

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