By Sue Moore
“I love my community and serving my community brings me pure joy,” said Sheri Louis. She received the Mercer Munn Award from Vicksburg Rotary in June for her work with Generous Hands, Inc. “Knowing the background of the award makes it even more meaningful.”
Munn inspired many people to volunteer their service to the less fortunate in Vicksburg from the 1930s to the 1980s. Louis has made a career of that throughout her life, beginning with a mission trip to Nicaragua and three trips to Staten Island, N.Y. She worked with individuals devastated by 9/11 as well as providing care for those suffering from HIV and AIDS at Project Hospitality.
“These experiences set my life on a path to serving and instilled valuable life lessons that I hold dear to my heart. I witnessed men, women and children living at a dumpsite with the stench of that site and the shadows of the vultures hovering above,” she explained. “Visions of children chasing garbage trucks to get first pick and lines of barefoot refugees waiting for food distributions are memories that have remained with me for years.”
It isn’t quite that dramatic for the children in the Vicksburg School System who receive weekly Friday packs from Generous Hands, but it does fulfill some of Louis’ need to make life better for kids of all ages and faiths. She now has the opportunity to build relationships with families and help feed children in her own community which is even closer to her heart, she emphasized.
“I have seen the impact of what a simple Friday Pack makes in the life of a child who faces food insecurity. It brings me great joy knowing that through the generous acts of a caring community, we are making a difference in the lives of these children,” Louis said. In May 2019 there were 276 students receiving the Friday packs to take home with them to consume over the weekend when there might not be anything else to eat in the house.
Generous Hands developed out of a study group at Lakeland Reformed Church in 2004 with Paula Schriemer as the “visionary”, Louis explained. Many other members of the church have been a part of its ongoing success. When Louis took the reins in 2011 there were 649 volunteers hard at work packing food and looking for donations. Today there are 1,073 volunteers, logging over 1,808 hours of service.
Eimo and Stryker have been a huge help, she said. Gary Hallam and his crew from Eimo turn out every month with food their employees have dropped off. Stryker also has been a mainstay volunteer group packing for over five years.
Then there are the volunteers like Nancy Herson, who helps with the pack distribution each week. Each school has volunteers like Lisa Coe and Tammie Hamilton, who have been helping for years. Madeleine Fojtik has been the GHI technical support and webmaster and serves on the board. There are so many more that help that it is impossible to name them all, Louis said.
“The time I spend as a Kids Hope mentor at Sunset Lake Elementary School also fulfills the need of helping a child feel loved, so they can learn, grow and succeed. It is all about the relationships,” Louis said.