COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Two nights a week, for about two years now, a group of volunteers from local churches go to where the homeless are, handing out food, hugs, and more in Columbus.
They're with the non-profit ministry M2540, named for a Bible verse. We talked to some of the homeless they serve every week, getting an inside look at the group in action.
"For the most part of my childhood, on and off, we were homeless, living in a tent, in somebody's backyard, or in a car," M2540 ministry volunteer Niki Lopez said.
It started at age 7 for Niki Lopez, who even slept in drainage ditches with her single mom. Fast forward to now, she's giving food to and loving on dozens of homeless men and women in Columbus, as a volunteer with the M2540 ministry.
Lopez added, "It's really emotional for me because I see what people here are doing and it just touches me so much."
The meals they deliver on Monday and Tuesday night outreaches are home-cooked when we tagged along it was taco rice. They fill up 100 to-go boxes to give to the homeless all over West Columbus and downtown.
"We pray and then we hit the road," M2540 Ministry Director Pastor Ed Grifenhagen said, as they prayed at every stop along the way.
"This group every Monday and Tuesday, is a Godsend. Even if I don't get a meal, it's just the people," said Patty Pullin, who's been homeless since February.
These volunteers go wherever they need to, under bridges, wherever the homeless are in our community, serving about 100-125 meals twice a week.
"And we go into camps, homeless camps. We go, sometimes they're in abandoned buildings or houses. We go wherever they are, they're not coming to us. We're going to them," Pastor Grifenhagen told us.
At one of their stops, we found Larry Martin. He says being homeless is tough and looks forward to the M2540 group bringing much more than just dinner.
"When you got good people like these that come out and help us twice a week, not to enable us, now with things they bring- the food, clothes- forget all that. It's fellowship, you see how people were hugging and showing love. That in itself means a whole lot to us," Martin said.
The non-profit organization, launched in October 2015, gets its name from Matthew 25:40 in the Bible.
"I came across that passage and it's 'Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,'" Grifenhagen described.
M2540's director also says they have a base of 100 volunteers from about 10 different churches, hoping to bring joy to adults and kids living in the woods and on the streets of Columbus.
"It's definitely not just handing the food to them. It's food, it's clothing, and its hygiene products," he added. "Try to facilitate life change, help them find a job, encourage them, come alongside them."
Grifenhagen says giving them life's necessities opens the door for deeper discussions and relationships with the homeless.
"I know they believe in me, sometimes when I don't believe in myself," homeless man Larry Martin said. "A lot of us have a lot of addictions, troubles, trials, and tribulations, but with good people behind you, there's always a way to make it through."
Lopez tells us, "These people rely on us, and if one person had done that for me, I'm sure it would've changed my entire childhood."
Now, this former homeless woman is encouraged by her weekly visits to the homeless near where she lives- praying for them, hoping to make a difference.
"I hope the good Lord allows them to keep on blessing each and every one of us," said Robert Knight, a homeless man in Columbus.
"They're like thank you for doing this and I thank God for you guys every day. To me, that smile is tangible, that's tangible love to me," Lopez said, fighting back tears.
For now, they do outreaches Monday and Tuesday nights but hope to add more in the near future.