Marie Dugan has always made it a practice to give back.
Her family would contact the school over the holidays and purchase Christmas gifts for children in need, they’d visit a nursing home and bring blankets and crafts. Seven years ago, Dugan and her late husband came across a homeless camp and the couple knew they had found their calling.
Dugan reached out to friends on Facebook for donations and the response was overwhelming.
“We started collecting coats, blankets, hygiene products and flashlights,” Dugan said. "We organized a meal train for people to volunteer for food and every Saturday, we’d go to homeless camps in Indianapolis and share a meal with them."
Dugan’s husband created the 501c3 Hearts for the Homeless and before long, the couple was making about a dozen stops on their weekend route – some camps had 15 people, others had 80.
After the passing of her husband four years ago, she found a church member interested in volunteering.
Jeff Tolley has been making the trip to Indianapolis for the past four years.
“Everyone has a hurt – a story. This can happen to any one of us at any time; one wrong decision, one job loss,” Tolley said. “This is something I’d never thought I’d be doing, but I’ve learned there’s a lot of background hurt in these people’s lives.”
Despite the politics behind homelessness and arguments over solutions, Dugan and her volunteers choose to simply meet people where they are.
“Our purpose is to build relationships and trust," she said. "I used to be one of the people that thought they should get a job, they shouldn’t be panhandling. There are some of those that walk away and get in their fancy car but there are a lot of legitimately homeless people too. There is a man in a wheelchair who panhandles downtown, many have a mental health disorder. I never give anyone money. If you don’t need food or water, you don’t need anything.”
She has seen individuals who are disabled and in need of additional assistance, yet never seem to make it on the list, and she’s seen other individuals who have been given shelter through a housing project, yet they don’t accept the help.
“They get a key to an apartment or a home, maybe some help with furnishing, but that’s it,” Dugan said. “I know one man who had a key for six months and he never stepped foot in the apartment.”
Perhaps it’s the fear of failing, or that they've become accustomed to the homeless lifestyle, but to Dugan the reasons don’t really matter.
She leaves the solutions, resources and programs to others. She is, however, looking for more volunteers and looking for more homeless who need assistance.
Dugan has lived in North Salem, Avon and now Lebanon and said it’s difficult to locate where the homeless are staying.
While they continue to go to Indianapolis each week, Dugan and Tolley are hopeful they can find a location closer to home.
“We’ve walked the railroad tracks, we’ve seen them out walking, but we don’t know where they camp,” Dugan said. “I hope we can find a location where we park once per week and maybe the people will start coming. I don’t want to enable them or just provide things. I want to talk to them and hear their stories.”
She’s hopeful the people of Lebanon will continue to support the cause because she’s seen their support in the past.
“The people in the City of Lebanon have been huge in supporting us," Dugan said. "I envision someday having a location with a kitchen so I can prepare hot meals and maybe a boutique to offer clothing and other items. We need to find a home base.”
Anytime the meal train has a gap or shortage, she knows she can count on the Chik-fil-A in Anson to fill in.
“There are so many things going on behind the scenes. When you meet the people who donate or make meals, it’s often in remembrance of a loved one and those stories about giving back are awesome,” Dugan said.
Right now, Dugan and Tolley are in Lebanon and said they are waiting for God’s direction.
“I was raised in Boone County and there are a lot of people willing to help,” Tolley said. “We’d like to give back to the Boone County homeless, we just have to find them.”
To sign up for the meal train, visit the Hearts for the Homeless Facebook page and click on the top post. For more information, visit the website at
From our partners at the Lebanon Reporter.
Source: Lebanon Reporter