Miracle on Main Street

Story by Ralph McCormick

There are no miracles today…”

That’s a phrase that I hear often. I believe this story will provide proof to the disbeliever. Our municipality is a small continuum of good folks with sustained expansion since the town’s birth in the 1800s. We are comprised of good southern people.

Unfortunately, like towns all over the United States, there are some residents of Russellville who live a life of drug addiction, criminal actions, unemployment, homelessness and pain.

Russellville, with all its wealth and beauty like America, has this undercurrent of individuals that one may never come in contact. Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If these people exist in our town, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It means we are normal, a melting pot.

Because these people exist, we have our own “Miracle” on Main Street.

That “miracle” began as a pawn shop on east Main and developed into Main Street Mission. Gary and Marilyn Williamson, a husband and wife team, came in contact with some of Russellville’s hardest hit people pawning family items to feed their family. All of you must know that Main Street Mission (MSM) provides food to those in need. What you don’t know is that not only is the Mission a miracle but miracles do occur at MSM. You don’t believe me? Then I encourage you to read this entire story.

At the pawn shop on Main, people came in needing money for food. Instead of taking advantage of the dire circumstance of the individual, Gary and Marilyn would take advantage of the situation to give more for the item to be pawned than it was worth.

Gary relates a story about how this woman came by to pawn a radio, a $2 value. He saw her need and gave her $20 for it. In his way, he was feeding people in need. From that came the idea to provide a food service to those in need in Russellville, thus Main Street Mission was born.

In 1994, the doors of the Mission were opened for the first time and, by the grace of God, they remain open. Today Main Street Mission has the original site on east Main Street (next to Brown’s Catfish) and have purchased the old Ralston Purina location on Second Street.

The original location soon will be sold, and the contents and services moved to the larger location on Second Street where all services will be consolidated.

All the services?” Yep, Main Street Mission now provides food to many parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. On certain days of each week, one will see trucks and trailers from Fort Smith, Little Rock, Mena, Harrison, and other points in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana coming to Russellville to get food.

For a small donation to cover MSM transportation costs, these organizations receive a truck load of food worth over 40 thousand dollars to take home and dispense to those who need it.

As you see, that original pawn shop reached a few; now Main Street Mission reaches thousands every week… and hundreds of thousands of people are fed each year through the efforts of our local volunteers at MSM.

If one comes in for free food at MSM, they will receive food for a family — if one of the family members is employed. If not, they receive food for one. Instead of dishing out free food to all, MSM gives food as a reward for employment. This feature struck me odd, since our government dispenses food for non-work.

What a unique feature, if you work you’re rewarded. What a great concept!

I wonder why our government services don’t use this new and unique idea? Guess it is a secret that only can be found at MSM.

In Russellville, I would never have guessed that there are houses without running water, electricity or holes in the floor large enough for a dog to crawl through.

Well, the homes are here. Food was delivered to such a house on West C Street a few years ago. The house had holes in the living room floor that were two feet wide and covered with blankets.

In another case, there was an older couple living on East Parkway near the Hughes Center. They needed food but were too proud to come to the Mission. Instead, they searched through dumpsters for food. Thankfully they have received assistance and no longer live there.

We all drive down Parkway, West C and other streets — areas with people living in bare economic conditions — and we never even notice. Gary and Marilyn of MSM have daily contact with people who have needs such as these.

One of the misconceptions I had previously was that all the churches of the area support the Mission financially. Not true! A few churches make small, random donations. The major support of MSM comes from individuals.

I asked to see from where the money came and Gary and Marilyn opened the books. One local woman gave $2,400 … a large, local church gave $50… Another lady who had been helped by the Mission came into some inheritance money and donated $500.

“That happens often. People that we help will come and donate to the Mission when they have money,” Marilyn said. Large and small checks trickle in during the month. All of it goes to help people and to pay that $21,000 land note payment due every six months.

“It is a miracle, but the money always comes,” Gary said.

I repeat — their main revenue source is from individuals, not churches. The donation of food that MSM dispenses is donated by large companies in this area and Memphis.

No matter what business you’re in — tires, furniture, food or banking — one needs money to keep the wheels turning. Main Street Mission is no exception.

They don’t have a television show or an advertising agency to promote MSM. They rely on God and His Army to make the mission work. On one occasion, a $21,000 payment was due; on the due date, they didn’t have enough money to make the payment. Within 45 minutes of the bank closing and the payment being late, a $9,000 donation came in.

The payment was made.

Besides the daily food kitchen on Main Street, MSM provides food and clothes for families at no cost to the recipient. Reba Kinslow, one of the MSM workers, said there was a need for carrots. That day an entire truckload of donated carrots backed up to the dock.

As they say at MSM, “Be careful of what you ask.” Another time a worker mentioned the need for tomatoes for the food boxes. Within minutes, a truck backed up to the dock with a large donation of guess what? Tomatoes!

Not long ago, there was a shortage of butter at MSM. Mrs. Francis Mathis said a quiet prayer, “Lord, we need butter.” A call came from a supplier — they had some items for the Mission. Workers went to get the donation.

It was all individual pats of butter. Mrs. Mathis smiled and said, “Thank you, but that’s not exactly what I had in mind.”

Pastor Greg Doss was working a Thanksgiving lunch at MSM. The crowd of diners was larger than expected and they were running out of turkey. Doss had no idea of how they would feed the remainder of the crowd. Much as Jesus fed the multitudes, MSM fed the large crowd remaining with donated turkey that was mysteriously and unexpectedly delivered by an anonymous donor. The food came to the door just as the serving trays became empty. The donor had turkey with all the accessories ready for serving. God works in mysterious ways, but no one at the Mission doubts that He works beside them everyday.

Last year MSM served over 160,000 meals to the citizens of Russellville. Over 60 different organizations in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana are supplied food from MSM. An estimated 500 thousand people are touched by the “Miracle” on Main Street each year.

Need Volunteers? Yep! MSM runs on donations and volunteers and they need lots of both. To volunteer, call Debbie Flauta at (479) 890-9068. Debbie is MSM’s office manager, newsletter editor and general all-around worker. She will put you on their list to work. If you have a specific trade or specialty, mention it to her. Today, they need workers for the new building going up.

Just this month, Main Street Mission received five new free FEMA trailers for only the handling charge – which still amounts to quite a bit of money. These trailers will allow MSM to have overnight housing for those in need on a short term basis. At present they struggle to put those in need of housing in motels (which is limited to women and children only.)

There is a problem with this new trailer concept. MSM doesn’t have the extra 20 thousand dollars to pay the handling cost charged by FEMA. Here is where you can help. If you, your business, civic club, or church would like to sponsor one of these trailers, contact MSM.

Main Street Mission is a safe sanctuary in a dark and lonely world where some people reside. MSM provides a light in the dark that comforts those people. Help them continue to provide that light. Donate your time, money, or specialty to help those who have hit a rough place in life.

What started as a pawn shop has developed through the vision and guidance of Gary and Marilyn Williamson in to a Mission for the hungry and those in need. The Mission survives with the help of those who have a gift in their heart, individuals such as you and me. Only by the grace of God does it exist and because it does, Russellville is a much better place for all of us to live … We have our “Miracle” on Main Street.

For additional information on Main Street Mission, visit the group’s web page at www.mainstreetmission.org or call 968-8303.

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