One day early in 2012 while scanning her Facebook newsfeed, Sally Segerson saw that volunteers were needed to survey the homeless in Fort Wayne.
She decided to volunteer. It was an eye-opener, she said, to realize people in Fort Wayne were living under bridges, in woods and on park benches in wintertime.
Two weeks after that experience, she formed Street Reach for the Homeless, a personal ministry to provide food and clothing to the hungry and homeless in the community.
On Monday and Thursday nights, she delivers Dinner and Duds to the homeless and urban poor at two locations downtown. In addition to a hot meal, she has a van full of clothes, sleeping bags and blankets to offer them.
While Street Reach for the Homeless is Segerson's own ministry, she does have “an army of supporters” who take gently used items to designated drop-off sites when she puts a request for donations on Facebook, which she says is “my greatest tool.”
The effort started out slowly, with Segerson simply recognizing a need. “And turning my back on it would be wrong,” she said.
In the beginning, she went bridge to bridge and campsite to campsite to talk to the homeless. Then one day, she sat under a bridge with two homeless men who could network with others living on the streets. They could spread the word that Segerson would provide a full meal and pass out clothing, tents, sleeping bags and more at a designated downtown site at a designated time.
The first dinner she served a handful of people, but it has grown to 60 or 70 on Monday nights and about 40 on Thursday nights. She sees more in the summertime when more people are living on the streets.
She is fiercely protective of the dignity and privacy of the people she serves, so she won't reveal where she goes downtown on Monday and Thursday nights. Nor does she pry into their lives.
“To stand in my line means that you need something,” she said. “I will never ask you where you live.”
Although it may seem risky for a woman to go alone in search of the homeless or to serve them, Segerson didn't feel in danger as she approached them under bridges or at their campsites, and she doesn't feel in danger on the nights she goes downtown to do Dinner and Duds.
“I believe if it is God-led, it is God-protected, and, at this point in time, I feel confident that I am protected by those gentlemen who are there (at the meals) and, in turn, I am protecting them,” she said.
Some are homeless, and some are the urban poor. The last week of the month, she typically serves more people; she suspects that's because some people's food stamps have run out.
At the distribution sites, she sets up a buffet and serves the entree. The people in line serve themselves the side dishes, and someone helps serve drinks. Women and children are served first.
She considers many of the people she has met at Dinner and Duds to be her friends.
Segerson, who works full time in sales, spends her weekends cooking the entrees. She gets financial donations from some supporters and supplements with her own funds. Pembroke Bakery donates bread and New Ground Coffee donates coffee. Her Facebook friends donate clothes and other items.
Segerson's assistance extends beyond Monday and Thursday nights. She has met people at the library to help them figure out how to get a copy of their Social Security card or birth certificate. Many don't even have an ID, she said. “On paper, they simply no longer exist.”
Now that she has established these friendships, she feels even more strongly about what she's doing.
“How could I now turn my back on them?” she said.
Her mission doesn't have an end in sight.
“I will stay on the streets, I will become a stronger vocal advocate on their behalf, and I will continue to fight for their dignity and their respect in this city,” she said.