HOW TO HELP
Donut and Friends and Southside Reunion representatives will assist Mary McSears in collecting food at Mary's Lounge from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday . The food boxes will be distributed at the end of the day.
Giving comes so naturally to Mary McSears that seeing her help others makes people want to join her.
"I've never been selfish, but she made me more of a giver," said Reginald Garrett, who started buying toys for needy families after working with McSears about 14 years ago.
McSears remembers what it was like being a single mom trying to support four small children while working as a housekeeping supervisor at a local nursing home. She learned what it's like to be hungry -- a lesson she never forgot.
"I can't eat and see someone hungry," McSears said from behind the counter at Mary's Lounge, a tiny club she owns at the corner of McCallie Avenue and Lyerly Street.
Randy Stargin, vice president of the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, said McSears' compassion and generosity know no limits.
"She gives from the heart," he said of the three time-recipient of the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association Outstanding Service Award. She supplied the neighborhood association with 30 free plates of food for elderly and disabled people in the Orchard Knob community.
She's also given food to seniors at Mary Walker Towers and at local nursing homes throughout the city, Stargin said.
If more people were like her, the world would be a better place, said the Rev. Samuel Jackson, who pastors McSears at Union Hill Baptist Church.
"She articulates that she knows she is blessed and it is a part of her mission to bless others," Jackson said.
Back pain keeps McSears from moving as freely as she would like, but it does not stop her will. She gives from the goodness of her heart and seeks no credit, he said.
"She's really more of an unsung hero," Jackson said.
This Thanksgiving, McSears gave 700 plates of food to residents, and she's planning to give 80 food boxes stuffed with Christmas dinner and all the fixings this year.
McSears also remembers the piercing disappointment of not getting a bicycle because her mother could not afford it. She wants to make the lives of children different from her own childhood. She has managed to collect enough bikes and toys to make sure 50 families have a merry Christmas this year.
Because of her work to help people, Garrett and his wife said they limit the gifts they trade among themselves so they can help another family for Christmas.
When McSears started providing food for families 14 years ago, most of the money came out of her pocket. Now retired men who play dominoes together and friends who meet at her club for card games donate money for bikes and toys. The Scenic City Motorcycle Club gave money. And Napoleon Williams of the "Donut and Friends" radio show and the Southside Reunion help collect food.
McSears, who also prepares and sells plates of food during the week and tells customers that a portion of their money goes toward helping other families, holds firm to her commitment to fighting hunger.
"I can't turn people away," she said. "You don't know if you're turning Jesus away."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...