Virtual Voices

Teaching 'Yankees' how to love

Poverty

When Lucious Newsom died in 2008, his Indianapolis vision seemed destined to die with him.

Newsom, a friend of governors and mayors, fed the hungry from the pockets of his bib overalls, giving the last 25 years of his 93 years on earth to help poor people in the state capital of Indiana.

He was a walking example of the biblical character of Job: "I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy and investigated the cause which I did not know."

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Newsom came to Indianapolis from Tennessee as a retired Baptist pastor on a mission to teach "Yankees" how to love. He at first drove around town in a van to feed the needy. Then, with the help of a band of volunteers, he built the Lord's Pantry at Anna's House in the Westside neighborhood of Stringtown.

When he died in 2008, it was questionable whether anyone could fill his big shoes. But four years later, the ministry is flourishing, feeding twice as many people as before.

The pantry still operates with a small budget-about $100,000 a year. There's no paid staff, and food comes from local food banks and leftovers from grocery stores and restaurants.

On Saturday mornings more than 200 families stock up on groceries at the pantry-an island of peace and harmony in the Stringtown neighborhood, which has seen its share of crime and drug abuse.

A key to the ongoing success is that no one person claims to be Newsom's successor.

Julie Molloy and Beth Orsay are the pantry's organizers and record-keepers. Molloy's handicapped daughter, Anna, suffered from many afflictions and bonded in a special way with Lucious, serving with him from her wheelchair. She died just 18 days before Lucious' death in August 2008.

"Lucious ran everything out of his front pocket," Molloy said. "I can't do that."

She and Orsay have brought more structure to the organization so that volunteers and families in need can be tracked.

Other key volunteers include Tim Ingram and Troy Estep, friends since childhood who grew up and still live in Stringtown.

In recent years, Ingram became a Christian, and the example of his changed life prompted Estep's conversion.

"We feed the people and give them a smile," Ingram said.

On a Saturday it's hard to tell volunteers from those in need. But that's by design.

"Here it's not the haves and the have-nots," Molloy said. "We are all God's creatures, and we can help each other out."

Lucious Newsom must be smiling in heaven.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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