MUST Ministries in Marietta celebrates 50 years

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Marietta-based MUST Ministries has grown from a one-room food pantry and clothing closet to a multi-million-dollar nonprofit, helping many thousands in need.

During 2020, the ministry gave 2.58 million pounds of food and served more than 180,000 people to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through MUST, many local residents receive food, housing, emergency shelter, jobs, healthcare and clothing, returning more than once for help.

“MUST Ministries exists to serve people and serve them with compassion,” said MUST Ministries President and CEO Ike Reighard in a statement. “Every person who comes through the doors of any of our facilities is special and has a story to tell.”

Former MUST employee Carol Wisdom, now serving on MUST’s Board of Directors, recalled in a statement, “A MUST miracle story I witnessed involved a lady from California whose husband died when she was in her early 30′s. She didn’t have much money or life insurance, so she decided to drive to Georgia with her 6-year-old because her best friend lived here. When she got here, her friend said she could only stay for a few days but told her about MUST.”

Of this lady, Wisdom said, “She was so distressed that she and her son had to stay in a homeless shelter. Volunteers stayed up all night to wash and dry their clothes; and when she awoke, she knew she would make it through because people at MUST cared and were helping her.”

Wisdom added, “MUST helped her get a job and an apartment. She and her son later bought a house, she remarried and they have had a fulfilling life. It was a life transformed by MUST.”

MUST’s 50-year journey began when a youth minister encouraged his students to help others, according to MUST Vice President of Public Relations Kaye Cagle.

As they started seeing needs and other churches joined in, MUST’s platform was established, she added.

Highlights from MUST Ministries’ past 50 years include:

  • 1971 – Rev. Wayne Williams founds MUST Ministries.
  • 1972 - MUST opens first office on Waterman Street near downtown Marietta and the first food pantry and clothing closet.
  • 1983 - Loaves & Fishes Community Kitchen serves three days a week with only a small stove and five tables.
  • 1984 – Job assistance program begins to help clients find employment.
  • 1985 – Opens first shelter called SNOR (Safe Night of Rest) that sheltered up to 20 individuals in an old, donated firehouse near the Marietta Square.
  • 1992 - ”Transitional housing” program begins providing apartment housing as an incentive for shelter residents who maintained employment, sobriety and a commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty.
  • 1995 – Cobb Summer Lunch program begins and serves daily sack lunches to 25 children in need.
  • 1998 – Summer Lunch expands into Cherokee and Douglas counties, and today serves more than half a million meals in seven counties.
  • 2004 – Gobble Jog, MUST’s largest annual fundraiser, began; and it is now one of the largest Thanksgiving races in the nation.
  • 2009 – Permanent Supportive Housing program opens in Cobb and Cherokee counties to serve unsheltered people with disabilities.
  • 2012 - Veterans Permanent Supportive Housing opens.
  • 2014 – MUST Marketplace opens where clients can shop for free and the public can purchase discounted new and second-hand items to support the ministry.
  • 2015 – MUST and Alive Ministries merge to expand the Save It Forward school food pantry program (now called Neighborhood Pantry) and doubles pantries, now serving children in 100 schools.
  • 2020 – During the COVID-19 pandemic, between March and December 2020, MUST served 179,914 people and distributed 2.04 million pounds of food. Also, MUST completed a Jobs Hotline, adult healthcare clinic with Mercy Care, Bethesda Clinic in Cherokee, awarded the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund of $5 million to help homeless families and groundbreaking of a new, consolidated campus with 136 homeless shelter beds.

“As we reflect on how MUST has grown in the past 50 years, even within the last year despite the pandemic, we look forward to what the future holds,” Reighard said.

“MUST is poised to not only continue helping people in the 10 counties we currently serve but also expand throughout Metro Atlanta. We are so blessed that we are able to impact lives and experience the miracles of transformed lives,” he added.