Three years ago, Bayou Gauche resident Jerri Cooper came across a homeless man begging for change on the side of a New Orleans street.
Cooper, 28, said after she handed the man a few coins through her car window she felt the need to do something more.
“He was just so appreciative of the little things I had to offer. His excitement was unbelievable when it was just pocket change to me,” she said.
So when she returned to Life Fellowship Community Church in Bayou Gauche, Cooper decided to rally a number of her fellow parishioners into doing something more for those who are the most needy.
Within a month church volunteers banded together by cooking meals and taking them to New Orleans to hand out to the city’s many homeless people.
“It was a blessing and we felt like we needed to keep doing it,” Cooper said.
That is how the church group M25 Ministries started – named for the bible verse Matthew 25:40.
“It is pretty much saying what you do for the least of your brothers and sisters, you’ve done it for me,” Cooper said.
After three years, M25 has continued to fundraise locally and build its volunteer base to provide outreach to the homeless community in New Orleans.
“We kept doing it and have fed more than 15,000 now. And now it is more than food, it is clothes, books, hygiene products and other things they might need,” Cooper said.
Although it may seem like an intimidating task for a group of rural church members to go deep into the New Orleans homeless population, Cooper said the experience is quite the opposite.
“I guess some people are intimidated by it because you are walking into a big city and not knowing the people. They accept you, they are not mean at all and they protect you while you are out there,” she said. “They appreciate what you do so much it is just like a big family.”
The reaction from the homeless community, as well as volunteers for the church, has been priceless, Cooper said.
“It gives me such joy. I just thrive on seeing people smile when they were far from smiling when you first approached them,” she said. “Hugs from the homeless are the best.”
Although efforts to help the homeless are ongoing, M25 has also begun other outreach programs in the local area. For the past two years they have held an annual Christmas toy drive.
Coming from a family of little means herself, Cooper said the toy drive is something near to her heart.
“Coming from a family that always struggled around Christmas time it was natural for me to want to help other families,” she said.
In addition, the ministry has done a number of other fundraisers and outreach programs.
Prior to the beginning of the 2014 school year, M25 provided school uniforms and supplies to local students in need.
“We reached out to families needing school supplies and school uniforms and gave them anything they needed,” she said. “We still have lots of school uniforms. If there is anyone in need in the community we can give them to them.”
Only last month the group held a fundraiser for a local woman struggling with cancer.
“One of our fundraisers went to a patient fighting skin cancer. She got forced out of her job and that helped pay for medical bills,” she said.
In the end Cooper said the reason behind her dedication to helping other is a very simple one.
“It is important that people know there is someone out there who cares and that there is love in the world,” Cooper said. “As long as Jesus gives me the hands and feet to do it, I am doing it.”
And for the man who originally sparked the flurry of activity in Cooper that led to the M25 ministry? Cooper still occasionally sees him when they go out into the community.
“He has no idea what he started,” she said. “I have seen him a few times and ever since he is always happy to see us.”