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Rebecca Welchel, MetMinճ executive director, addresses a gathered group of clients on their final day of services before closing for the Christmas holiday in December 2015. Rebecca is a long-time veteran of Chattanoogaճ charity service providers.
some text David Cook

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IF YOU GO

What: MetMin’s 40th birthday party “Motown ThrowDown” at Songbirds Guitar Museum

When: 6-9 p.m. on Thursday

Tickets: metmin40.eventbrite.com

Founded in 1979 by the Episcopal Church to help the "poor, homeless, hungry, battered" in Chattanooga, Metropolitan Ministries — or MetMin — turns 40 this year.

Part Sermon on the Mount, part Emma Lazarus, part fiery first responder, the McCallie Avenue nonprofit is our city's emergency room for the poor — paying overdue and unpayable light bills, rent, bus passes, groceries. When Chattanoogans — thousands of them — must choose between food or medicine or electricity or water, they come to MetMin's doors.

"Without you, I'd probably be evicted," said one guest, or client.

"A blessing of relief to keep the electric on in my home," said another. "[MetMin] made me feel like I was important and not ashamed."

My best guess? MetMin has directly impacted 100,000 people over the years.

In July 2019 alone, MetMin prevented 82 evictions, provided nearly $9,500 of services, helped with more than 450 utility bills, 230 food vouchers and 225 rent payments. (And, along with Rock Point Church, helped nine folks repair broken brake lights, which meant nine fewer traffic stops.)

So Happy Birthday, MetMin.

There are three gifts I wish for you.

Gift one: Money

I love many nonprofits in this city, but I love you probably the most. A dollar spent with you is a most moral and direct way to help straighten a very crooked road.

The 2011 tornadoes — you were there within hours and helped for the next three years. The recurring Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids — you help families left behind. The Woodmore Elementary bus tragedy — you helped grieving families.

The extended stay motels closing. Grocery stores closing. Tent cities closing. Factories closing. Affordable apartments closing.

You're there.

When families can't pay their electric bill, it can cost an arm and leg to get power reconnected. When families can't pay overdue water bills, the city can shut off their water access. You're there to help. (My God, won't anyone in this city correct these outrageous policies?)

Plus, you're moving.

This year, MetMin is relocating to Rossville Boulevard. (ZIP codes of people are moving there too, economic refugees of a gentrified and unaffordable downtown.)

MetMin will be the cornerstone of the new Impact Hub, a seven-agency partnership designed to double-down on the influence it has with folks in need.

But construction costs went higher than estimated.

You can help. Monthly donations. Volunteer. The annual King Oehmig golf tournament.

Or this Thursday, Oct. 3, there's a MetMin birthday party — drinks, food, great music by Johnny Smith — at Songbirds Guitar Museum.

Gift Two: An audience.

The loudest of megaphones. The mayors' — county and city — ear.

MetMin is a witness to what so many of us won't see.

Before we build the next condo or hype the next brewery, we need to hear MetMin's witness, a little cricket voice on our shoulder, reminding us that not all is well in the Best City Ever.

Under the bridge. On the corner. In the darkened house.

People are hungry, desperate, forgotten.

MetMin leadership has always caused what Rep. John Lewis called "good trouble." First, the Rev. Jim Bills, then Claire Mulkey, Lou Garcia, the wonderful the Rev. John Talbird, and now, Becky Whelchel.

I remember first meeting Whelchel at a homeless coalition meeting with Bro. Ron Fender. That was years ago, and I'm still starry-eyed over her work.

The director since 2006, she has a poet's heart with a punk-rock-cowgirl's no-nonsense aim and voice. Tough as nails, with the softest of souls, Whelchel is an unsung saint of this city.

Listen to her.

Gift three? Rest.

I can only imagine the burnout.

I can only imagine the long-term grind of every single day encountering folks on the very edge and out of the view while, in the background, the city grows flush with condos, business improvement districts and ridiculous claims like veteran homelessness has ended.

The thousand different stories that are ultimately the same story: please pay attention to me. Please help me. Please don't let me fall.

Over and over and over and over again.

How can we help the people at MetMin and other nonprofits stay sustainable in an unsustainable game?

Between 2014 and 2018, MetMin provided care more than 41,000 times.

Perhaps you've seen its bumper-sticker motto: You Matter.

In this city of suffering, MetMin, you matter, so very, very much.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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