KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Before serving meals to hundreds of people in need, Deacon Scott Maentz, a Knight of Columbus from Our Lady of Fatima Council 3832, gathers the Knoxville Bridge Ministry volunteers for a morning prayer outside of Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM). The ministry’s food stand faces the Interstate 40 overpass, which has become a makeshift home for the city’s homeless.
Maentz tells the volunteers that the face of every homeless person they will serve is the face of Jesus.
“These are people that are loved by our Lord and they deserve as much respect as anybody else,” Maentz said. “So we’re just there to give them that respect.”
Life is fragile beneath the overpass. Needles lie scattered across sleeping areas. Echoes of gunshots can be heard over the noise of trains passing nearby. Barbed wire fencing shows that even under the overpass the city’s homeless are unwelcome.
The ministry has been serving meals every month since Christmas Day 2015. It started with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and since then, their menu has expanded to chili, hot dogs, fruits, baked goods, coffee and even jambalaya at times.
Maentz was initially hesitant to begin the Bridge Ministry. It took some motivation from his wife, Christine. In 2015, for the first time in years, the Maentzes weren’t traveling for Christmas, so Christine insisted that they do something for the community, particularly the homeless. So on Christmas Eve, the Maentzes made more than 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bought fruits, doughnuts and coffee.
On Christmas morning, the Maentzes had planned to set up Christmas decorations and music while serving meals, but because of the downpour that morning, they hid under the I-40 overpass. Suddenly, nearly 100 homeless people appeared and formed a line. New to this type of service, they asked the homeless how to pass out the sandwiches. From the back of the line someone said, “Just have us stand in line and we’ll wait our turn.”
After handing out the sandwiches, the Maentzes wanted to do more. Scott turned to his council at their next meeting for help. They offered him a place to make the sandwiches and get the word out.
“I wasn’t looking for money or anything.” Maentz said. “I was just looking for people to donate some peanut butter, some bread.”
More than 30 people, including Knights and their families, came to help make and serve meals. The Knights’ involvement in the ministry has been consistent ever since. One Knight, Tom Quinones, donated his food cart to cook hot dogs.
Today, many of the faces who stand in line for food have changed since that first meal on Christmas Day 2015. Maentz has only recognized perhaps a dozen people he has served before — the bridge community is transient. It reinforces the fact that anyone can become homeless.
“So many people are just a couple of paychecks away from being on the street,” Maentz said.
“The Knights are there to serve,” Maentz said. “This is the reason I thought of the Knights immediately when we were looking for somebody to help us with this, because I know my brother Knights and I know they have a heart for service.”
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