KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Since the pandemic hit, a Corryton couple has packed 1,200 paper bag lunches for homeless people in Knoxville to try and fill in the gap.
The lunches filled with love are personal for Mary Ann and John Bush.
Every Sunday, the husband and wife line up their dining room table with supplies to pack paper bags with lunches for around 75 homeless people in Knoxville.
They create a sort of assembly line to make sure every piece of bread, meat and cheese is perfectly in place and ready to be sealed in a sandwich bag.
"We pretty much have it down now where we don't run out of anything," Mary Ann laughed.
She said it has taken months to get the process down pat. They started out only assembling 50 each week.
A sandwich, bottle of water, fruit and snacks get packed in a paper bag, which is then signed with a special phrase: "Love, Jenny."
"I think a lot of people love Jenny now," Mary Ann and John laughed. "Although they don't know who she is. They think I may be Jenny because they'll look at me and say 'Thanks, Jenny!'"
Jenny is the reason Sundays are filled with lunches of love in their house. She was Mary Ann's daughter.
"Jenny passed away last November and I say it's from complications of being homeless from not taking care of herself or seeking out the help that she needed," Mary Ann nodded.
Jenny was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 30s. She battled her mental health, alcohol and drug addiction while being homeless.
She was a mother of three, who died in 2019 from a heart attack after finally getting a permanent place to call home.
Jenny's story is what motivates Mary Ann and John to help others who are homeless.
"I would like to think that somebody took the time to do that for her when she was homeless, so we do that for her," Mary Ann said.
So, they drive and deliver to the homeless population all through Knoxville. They go to more obscure locations, not KARM or the Salvation Army. They scout out people in tent communities, and often those who live under bridges.
“Wherever we see someone who could use a meal we stop and pull a lot of u-turns," Mary Ann and John laughed. “It may the only meal they have for the day. It’s nothing fancy but it will sustain them for a day.”
When the couple sees someone who looks like they need the lunches filled with love, they hand them a bag, often remarking "God Bless!" and "Have a great day!"
They explained every person they help always leaves with a smile, which is a reminder of why they do what they do.
"I see her face in every bag that I hand out and I just pray that at some point in her life somebody did that for her," Mary Ann wiped her eyes.
Every week, they take their mission to the streets with some help in funding from their church, Washington Presbyterian, coworkers and friends.
They don't do all of this every week for recognition. They want to encourage others to find a cause they are passionate about and pursue it wholeheartedly.
"We just need more trench workers to help out, and that's how it is," John shrugged. “A thought is only as good as its action. If you think about it, I’m proud of you, but if you actually do something, I love you.”
If you would like to get in contact with, help fund or assist Mary Ann and John, John said to give him a call at 865-591-0495.
They plan to continue dropping off lunches even after the pandemic slows down. They anticipate having to reduce the number of bags they hand out once water fountains and public bathrooms reopen.