Sodexo worker brings love, mercy to those in need

At many homeless shelters or soup shops, there is only one plate allowed to patrons. At Carmen Garcia’s homeless ministry, there is no limit. 

“This lady I know says, ‘I don’t have any food in my house, can I have some extra?’” Garcia said. “To me, it’s no problem.”

Carmen Garcia has worked for Sodexo at Wichita State for nine years, currently as a supervisor at a Taco Bell. The last two years she has spent her spare time helping the homeless and those in need at her ministry, Love and Mercy. 

“We do everything by love and through the mercy of God,” Garcia said.

Garcia’s ministry sets up tents and tables every three weeks in the parking lot of Saint Joseph church at the intersection of Third and Topeka streets.  During the winter, the ministry sets up every two weeks. Love and Mercy’s next event is Saturday. 

“We’re going to do hamburgers and hot dogs, chips, Kool-Aid and sweet tea,” Garcia said. “Some people are going to donate hot dogs, others hamburgers. I just buy whatever people don’t donate.”

Garcia started the service on Thanksgiving Day 2014.

“That’s a good day to start it,” Garcia said. “You can share with others. That was my thing about starting this ministry.” 

Garcia said her team consists of her, her four children and some of her coworkers for around a 10-person team. They set up at 8 a.m. and start serving an hour later. Garcia said they never make it past 11 a.m., running out of food before then.

Garcia’s daughter Avette Zamora said she has never seen anyone take as much time and care with helping others as her mother.

“She stays up until two or three in the morning, wakes up really early the next day and makes sure the coffee and juice is ready or the food is warm, that nothing’s wrong,” Zamora said. “She wants to make sure everything is good, not just mediocre or anything like that.”

Angel Zamora, Garcia’s son, said many people feel obligated or want something in return for their help; he said his mom is a different case.

“We’re not funded,” Zamora said. “Everything is out of pocket, so there’s more of an actual ‘want to be there’ attitude.”

Garcia said the family and personal aspect of Love and Mercy helps strengthen the outreach of her patrons.

“People feel like we love them and we care about them,” Garcia. “They come to us and say, ‘Can you pray for me? Because I have this problem or I have this pain.’ So they know we care about them.”

Garcia said she was first inspired by her mother, who owned a restaurant when Garcia was a child in El Salvador.

“Everybody knew my mom had leftovers of food,” Garcia said. “If she had some soup left over she’d give out. She also raised up kids that weren’t hers. She raised 10 kids as her own. So I got that from her.” 

Garcia said she is undeterred by the fact that she can’t help everyone in need.

“We don’t need to change the world,” Garcia said. “We need to change one person at a time.”