GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Redd Martin spent years living on the streets, eating from trash cans, and doing what he could to survive.
His life began to change after he met a woman who introduced him to God.
Today, he and that woman, now his wife, Cassandra Burgess Martin, are working to make life a little better for those in the place he’d been — homeless.
The Martins give them Sunday Dinner with a Twist.
In addition to providing the homeless a home cooked meal, “Redd demonstrates a wonderful gift of sharing his story of how he too was homeless and had an experience with suicide,” said Monika Scott Rogers.
“The hope is to unite the people and let them know that they are worthy despite their circumstances and that they too can move forward in their lives,” she said.
The concept is “a prime example of how anyone can give back to the community in hopes of inspiring someone in need to make a change in their lives,” Rogers said.
It’s also an example of a Greenville News Community Hero, for which Martin is being honored.
The Community Hero program, sponsored by the Greenville Federal Credit Union, is our way of highlighting the generous, noble, and selfless work of those among us who work tirelessly — often behind the scenes — to make our community a better place.
Sunday Dinner is Martin’s way of giving back to the homeless, Rogers wrote when nominating him.
“I truly appreciate that not only are they providing food for the body, they provide food for the heart and mind through spoken word artists performing meaningful and heartfelt poems,” Rogers said.
Many people that say they want to give back and there is no action, Rogers said. The Martins have acted out their desire to give in Greenville and beyond. Sunday Dinner has fed needy families in Sumter, too, Rogers said.
Martin, a native of Florida who grew up in Sumter said he was surprised by the Community Hero nomination.
“When you’re doing stuff like this you don’t get a lot of recognition,” he said. He bestows a lot of credit to God and his wife.
“God truly gave me one of his angels and this is what happens when He steps in,” Martin said. “He can save anybody. He saved me.
“He saw me because of this lady sitting beside me. This is why Sunday Dinner is here. This is why I’m still here.”
Sunday Dinner launched in 2018. It was inspired by Mrs. Martin’s stories about Sunday dinners with her grandmother.
“No matter what you were going through on those Sundays, you always had a plate of food at grandma’s house,” Martin said.
Sunday Dinner is all about is bringing families together, Mrs. Martin said. “If you don’t have a family, we’ll be your family.”
Mrs. Martin cooks enough food to serve about 80 people. The meals are boxed up and delivered to about seven places in Greenville where the homeless congregate.
The locations vary from people living under a bridge to living in the woods, to being out on Main Street in downtown Greenville, and the bus station.
Most of those are spots are where Martin said he used to hang out when he was homeless.
PATHS TO HOMELESSNESS
Being homeless is something the 53-year-old never thought he’d experience. The paths that led him there included drug addiction and depression he’d battled since he was a child.
“I was 13 years old when I picked up my first drink,” he said. “I’d been battling depression way before then. With the alcohol and drugs, it led me to be homeless.”
“I did a lot of things I wasn’t proud of,” he said. “I did some family members wrong and I ended up on the streets.”
He reached a point when he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He came to Greenville to attend a recovery program. He met his wife four and a half years ago while working at Greenville sports team’s store. Mrs. Martin, a school teacher, had taken a job there working in concessions.
At that time, Mrs. Martin, 45, said she did not know all of the things Martin was battling.
“I got to know him better,” she said. “That’s when all of his past started coming (out).”
FILLING A NEED
The Martins were initially feeding people in a transitional home, when they saw a need to do something more.
Her husband recalls visiting a place where meals were being cooked on a grill. He said his wife brought up the idea that the only thing they were missing was a Sunday dinner like her grandmother used to cook.
“We took that story about her grandmother and my story about being homeless and living in the streets, battling depression and drug addiction and all that stuff, we took put those together and put together Sunday dinner with a twist,” Martin said.
Sunday Dinner meals can range from pizza to beef stew with rice, green beans, baked macaroni and cheese, a roll, and tea, lemonade or bottled water.
With the help of donations and widespread support, they’ve been able to reach 80 people every Sunday. The need, though, is much greater, Martin said.
“There’s a bunch of people out there we wish we could touch,” he said.
Assisting them in the outreach are Mrs. Martin’s two daughters and a host of friends. Poets – local and regional – often donate their time and talents with performances. Prayer warriors are also known to attend. Martin’s former Sumter classmates are among the frequent contributors.
Sunday Dinner has also provided tents, sleeping bags, clothes, and toiletry bags to people in need. Nurses treating COVID-19 and cancer patients, deputies, police officers, and highway patrol officers have also benefited from the Sunday Dinners program.
‘PEOPLE LIKE ME’
The reward for Martin has been simply ’giving back to people like me.”
He wants the community to realize that people who are homeless are still people.
“We see families. We’ve even seen pregnant women under bridges and we don’t want people to think that all of them are out there are under the circumstances of drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Some are depressed. Some are there because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. It could be anybody, he said.
“When I was growing up, I never thought I would be homeless and then I was.”