We can all do the most good in our everyday lives, whether it be helping an older neighbor with their yard work, recycling, or paying for coffee for the next person in line. There’s always a way to show God’s grace through your day-to-day deeds, but for some, doing the most good is their calling.
“It wasn’t my idea. It was His. The Lord has led me here,” is Melanie Cook’s response to dedicating so much of her time and energy to helping those in need.
Cook is a fulltime volunteer at The Salvation Army in Florence, Alabama, where she organizes the food pantry, cooks, and serves meals to residents. She’s also responsible for bringing in her fellow members of Highland Baptist Church to join in volunteer efforts at The Salvation Army.
The Lord Spoke To Me
Cook says the Lord spoke to her about being more involved in charity work through her Bible readings. She wasn’t sure how to get started and began working with a local ministry that prepared weekly meals for the homeless. She met a couple in that ministry who introduced her to The Salvation Army. Cook saw how in need the shelter was and recruited other members from her church to assist. Word spread, and volunteering at The Salvation Army is now a church-wide service at Highland Baptist Church.
When asked to share her experience working with Cook, Christine Onocki, The Salvation Army Florence Corps Volunteer Coordinator, said, “My words are not adequate to express the gratitude in my heart for Melanie’s volunteer participation with us. She has such a beautiful spirit. She recognizes a need and jumps into action, organizing groups to fill the need or fill in the gaps. We are blessed to have her and her fellow church members. The phrase “With a heart for God and a hand to man” would describe this wonderful woman. We are very thankful.”
Fulfilling A Calling
Among all the other good they do, Cook’s ministry took it upon themselves to assist when the shelter was in desperate need of new bedding. The shelter received a large donation of bedspreads from one of the local hotels. Though the offer was generous and appreciated, most of the comforters were queen and king-sized, much too large for the twin-sized beds that most shelters provide. Shelters wash their bedding frequently, and the large size of the donated bedding would cause wear and tear on the machines, so Cook and three other women from her church decided to use their sewing skills to cut and hem the material, making two covers out of one. This act was much appreciated and helped make the bedding supplies at the shelter more efficient and easier to handle for both staff and residents.
In addition to loving what she does, Cook enjoys interacting with the people she serves. To Cook, volunteering isn’t just about the service provided. It’s also about making personal connections and showing people who may not currently have a source of companionship that there are people who care about them. She has found that volunteering sometimes works as a personal kind of witnessing ministry. People share their feelings and thoughts with her, which allows her to share their stories and assist others with making much needed societal changes.
“I don’t know if volunteers from my church have the same calling, but knowing the Lord gave me this duty leaves me with a strong sense of satisfaction each day,” Cook declared. “It’s a blessing to be able to talk to people and let them know that I’m just like them. We have different problems, but we all have problems. I can share with them how the Lord has worked in my life and encourage them that He can do the same for them. I remind them that this is just a temporary situation and that He’s there for them,” Cook added.
Volunteering Will Change Your Perspective
People have approached Cook on the street, asking for food and money. She informs them that they never have to go hungry because The Salvation Army serves meals every day. She also wants people in shelters to know that she doesn’t feel like they are different from her. She wants to offer encouragement about God and overcoming hardships, so she often sits and prays with people concerning finding a job, a place to live, and reuniting with their families.
“Homelessness has separated so many families. We don’t always get a happy ending with those, but sometimes we do. I try to share those happy endings with my Sunday school class. You know, ‘So-and-so moved out of The Salvation Army and into their apartment this week.’ or “So-and-so whose child was taken away by DHR is getting their baby back.’ The Salvation Army has played such a massive part in people’s lives,” Cook said.
Cook would like to see more people get involved. She often encounters lonely people at the shelter who feel that their lives have little meaning. She believes that if more people would share their time by volunteering at The Salvation Army, their perspectives on life will change, and they’ll realize they are more abundant and more blessed than they think.
Cook emphasizes the importance of sharing your time with others by adding, “Volunteering and witnessing these miracles has given me a boldness to share my faith. God is so good to us, and there’s a lot that we can do to change the world. One person at a time. Volunteer.”
Contact your local Salvation Army to learn how you can contribute.
Traditionally, homeless shelters serve as temporary residences for individuals and families. They exist to provide residents with safety and protection from the harsh conditions of living outdoors. Now, thanks to Elvis Mujic, a 30-year-old, stand-up comedian, people view shelters as a place to laugh and converse with their local community. While shelters aren’t commonplace for stand-up sets, Mujic says he finds joy performing in untraditional settings.
“Entertaining feels a bit selfish to me, possibly because it’s standing in front of a crowd to hold their attention. However, this [performing at shelters and collecting goods for the underprivileged] feels a lot better,” Mujic said.
Mujic contributes more than just comedic relief during his performances. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and shows can serve as an outlet for those in the audience who want to share their stories and perspectives.
“I performed at The Salvation Army chapel in Jackson, MS a few weeks ago. I do my best to plan out a show, but sometimes things happen that I can’t control, and sometimes it turns into a speaking event or a debate. I have experience living in a van. Not necessarily living in poverty, but I’ve faced inconveniences, so I can relate to some of the issues that people in shelters face. I created a moment to be encouraging to the residents and we ended up discussing whether they can get past their hardship. It was great and everyone was friendly after the show,” Mujic said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if people are enjoying themselves because it’s not your average comedy show and you’re in an area where there are lots of distractions and interruptions. For example, sometimes people will poke in their head and say, ‘Okay, hey it’s time to eat,’ or phones will ring and I’ll have to answer them and deliver a message,” he added.
Mujic was born in Bosnia, then known as Yugoslavia. His parents decided to give him a western name so that he would not have an Islamic name during a time of Islamic religious intolerance in Yugoslavia. His family moved to the United States when Mujic was seven years old and settled in Detroit, Michigan. He briefly studied philosophy at Amherst College in Massachusetts but left to pursue a career in comedy once he discovered joy in lifting others’ spirits. He lived in a minivan between 2013 and 2016 and traveled to 47 states, practicing his brand of guerrilla comedy.
“I don’t know what made me go into comedy, but I tried it, and I loved it. It felt natural. I performed at one shelter in Mississippi years ago, to try something different, and I always remembered how it felt. I thought to myself, ‘Well, who knows what life will bring? I have the chance to do this now, and I want to make sure that I can say that I’ve done something positive with stand-up comedy,'” Mujic said.
The first shelter Mujic performed in was in 2015 at The Salvation Army’s Tupelo, Mississippi location. While performing at a venue in Memphis, Mujic decided to visit Graceland, a suggestion from his father who is a devoted Elvis Presley fan. There were severe tornado warnings during his visit, so Mujic headed south and took shelter at The Salvation Army’s Tupelo, Mississippi location. He decided to do a set while waiting for the warning to end and found that he enjoyed performing for the people at the shelter.
“I was purposefully performing in places where you wouldn’t have stand-up comedy, and that was interesting for a while. I would go to Waffle House or Denny’s or other bizarre venues to perform. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m taking cover at a shelter during a tornado warning. This will be interesting.’ Doing these things that I found weird had a pretty profound effect on me,” Mujic said.
“I didn’t begin regularly performing in shelters until a few years later, but I’ve always vividly remembered that performance. It’s still my favorite set,” Mujic added.
Mujic has reached over 80 shelters since December 2018 and is currently touring the Southeastern United States, visiting as many facilities as he can fit into his schedule. He just wrapped up his performances in Louisiana and Mississippi and is currently in Alabama. He likes to focus his travels to low-income areas, where he performs at the local shelters first and later performs at a local venue. He often hosts “socks and undies shows,” where people may bring socks, underwear, and personal hygiene products as admission to the show. Mujic also puts donation bins throughout the town at various businesses.
“The bins are cool. They have my logos on them, but intertwined are messages from different people I’ve met at shelters and soup kitchens after the shows,” Mujic explained.
Mujic takes about 2-3 weeks in each area, getting to know homeless individuals. He collects the items from his donation bins and delivers them to the people that he’s met along the way. He delivers items directly to The Salvation Army and other shelters if he’s received a lot of donations.
“I’d love for my shows to be open to the community. My goal is to eventually get people who are not homeless to come to the shelter. I want to mix people who aren’t homeless and people who are homeless because it’s two different worlds that rarely interact. My goal is to try to mix everyone, erase any stigmas, and show that we’re all people,” Mujic added.
You can learn more about Mujic on his website, ElvisComedy.com
The Salvation Army | Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Divisional Headquarters
1450 Riverside Drive, Jackson, MS 39202