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House of Mercy feeds 80-105 families each week. Twenty-five to 30 volunteers come in each week to volunteer in the thrift store and food pantry. Photo - Jennifer Garnett

House Of Mercy: Where “Mercy Is a Verb”

 

By Linda Ross Pugel, Contributing Writer

Gorgeous mosaic tiles make up the floor, beautiful paintings adorn the walls, and decorative lamps are found inside House of Mercy, a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2005 in Manassas. Perhaps a visitor wouldn’t even realize they had walked into the charity nonprofit that is run by the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Ross wanted to serve directly in New Orleans, but her husband instead suggested that she and her prayer group focus on helping people in need locally, such as the homeless population in Washington, D.C. Ross gathered Fullen and several others and proceeded to make peanut butter sandwiches to take into the city. Unable to locate any homeless people, she began to pray for a sign, then suddenly looked up and saw one that read “Feed the Homeless.” Next, she saw more than 200 homeless in a park. “The sandwiches were gone in minutes!” she exclaimed.After several weeks of providing sandwiches, Ross and the members of her ministry started bringing foot-washing kits, and offered new socks to men and women if they would allow members of the ministry to wash their feet. According to Ross, this was a huge turning point in the ministry. “Word got out about what we were doing, and donations were pouring in,” she said, adding that her house got too small for the work involved. She saw a “For Rent” sign on Route 28, which led her to a worn-down building. Taking a leap of faith, the ministry signed a year-long contract for the space in a quest for “something beautiful, warm, and welcoming.”

Put simply, the House of Mercy has become a regional center for spiritual mercy. According to Ross, who now serves as the executive director of the organization, “We believe that no matter what your gift, you can use it to help someone who is suffering.” Ross believes that God has a plan and purpose for everyone’s life, in keeping with the organization’s motto that “mercy is a verb.” The mission, she said, is “to make God’s love visible every day, and to be a visible sign of mercy to other people.”

“We aren’t professionals at this,” said Ross, a nurse by trade. “We raise money through sincerity and sharing the mission. We tell the truth in a very simple way. Together in unity, we are able to reach out to the community and people around the globe.”

The House of Mercy offers several programs for charitable giving. Under Humanitarian Assistance, the nonprofit provides food and clothing to the less fortunate. “Our mission is to identify whatever needs people have, and try in a little way to relieve the suffering,” said Ross. For example, Ross, a fan of “new” shoes, says that they  are a very personal thing: “I’ve seen kids limping because their shoes are too tight, or they don’t have warm boots in the winter. Shoes are a visible sign that you have a purpose, and that you are not alone.”

The “I Hunger for Mercy” international program, which falls under Humanitarian Assistance, started in 2009. Ross explained that the House of Mercy teamed up with Kids Against Hunger, a food-aid organization, creating four ingredients that provide complete nutrition for children under five. The international program partners with the U.S. Navy and the Red Cross, who assist in setting up feeding centers around the world. Meanwhile, meals are cooked and get distributed at refugee camps as needed.

“I Hunger for Mercy” focuses on getting ordinary people such as housewives, children, and the employed and unemployed to come together to pack meals for the poor. “It gives kids a chance to ‘hands on’ feed the poor in our food pantry and around the globe,” added Ross.

Thanksgiving dinner, which also comes under Humanitarian Assistance, was served for this first time this year in the House of Mercy’s new building, which they have called home for over a year. They had more than 400 volunteers for the occasion. The nonprofit also held a multicultural brunch the weekend before Thanksgiving. Ethnic foods from all over the world were served at the brunch, giving people the chance to sample dishes from various cultures. “We would like to celebrate diversity on Thanksgiving Day,” Ross said.

The largest of the children’s programs, Passport to Hope, invites contributions of $30 a month to help support a local child and their family. Ross also discussed a new weekly program that the House of Mercy launched in November, “Encounters with Mercy,” which highlights news and events happening in the ministry. According to Ross, the audio/video program allows people to follow the staff and volunteers as they go into a house and meet a family for the first time.

Several adult programs are available, including the Home Bound ministry. Ross said that many elderly people benefit from having groceries delivered, or from having company when reading or praying. In addition, the House of Mercy offers family movie nights once a month, and shows inspirational family movies. “We buy the rights to a movie and let people come together as a family, giving them a family-friendly environment,” explained Ross.

Public programs offered by the ministry include how to overcome despair when financial crisis hits, and resume writing and preparing for interviews. There are also cookie exchanges at different times throughout the year that allow people to meet their neighbors.

Steve Luteran is the chief operating officer for the House of  Mercy, and is primarily responsible for the internal operations of the organizations. Luteran, who came on board in October 2010, feels that his work and mission in life is to serve. The highlight of his day is to “see a family who is on the brink of despair find hope at the House of Mercy.”

In preparation for Christmas, the House of Mercy partners with Toys for Tots, local churches and area schools to put on a two-day program. The first day, a Saturday, is strictly for parents. They receive tickets based on the number of kids in the family and the number of toys that were received as donations. Then they get paired up with elves, which are played by local high-school students. Ross explained that the teenagers wrap all of the gifts. The next day, Sunday, is a program for the children, who write letters to their parents detailing what they are thankful for, according to Ross. “Kids should understand that Christmas is about celebrating the life of Christ,” she said. “What you have is a gift, and it comes from someone’s sacrifice and from God.” Those working the weekend program explain to the children that it’s their opportunity to give back. The primary message that they try to convey to the children, said Ross, is that they have been given a great gift.

On a weekly basis, Thursday is the most eventful day at the House of Mercy, as people come in from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pick up groceries. Ross explained that 12 caseworkers are present, and do interviews with families to see whose needs are most dire. Luteran, who has 20 years of experience as a social worker, is in charge of all assessments and evaluations of the families. The organization feeds 80-105 families each week. “It’s busy, loud, but beautiful,” said Ross about each Thursday. Twenty-five to 30 volunteers come in each week to volunteer in the thrift store and food pantry.

The general public is welcome to make financial donations online at www.divinemercynow.org. Donations such as food, clothing, furniture and home goods are accepted Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 8 p.m. on Wednesday), and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The biggest need for the House of Mercy is food for its food pantry; however, they are also in need of seasonal clothing, new shoes for children, and volunteers to help throughout the week. The House of Mercy is located at 8170 Flannery Court, in Manassas.

Linda Ross Pugel is a 30-year resident of Prince William County, and currently resides in the Lake Ridge area with her husband and son. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Virginia Wesleyan College. Ross Pugel can be reached by email at lpuge[email protected]cewilliamliving.com.

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