‘It’s all about blessings’: ‘Neighbors Without Walls’ delivers meals, other donations to Baltimore’s homeless

About a week after Terence Dickson opened the Terra Cafe in Baltimore in January 2009, a friend asked whether he could use the new restaurant to prepare meals for the homeless.

Nearly 11 years later, Dickson and more than a dozen other volunteers stood around a long table before the cafe opened Sunday morning, preparing nearly 200 turkey sandwiches and putting them into individual brown paper bags.


“Neighbors Without Walls,” as the monthly food drive is known, has brought them together at 10 a.m. every second Sunday for 131 consecutive months, according to Dickson’s count. Together, the group has delivered tens of thousands of meals to the homeless in Baltimore over the past decade.

“A lot of people ain’t even been married that long,” he said with a laugh.


The volunteers enjoyed a breakfast of fried fish, grits and eggs together before heading to the Fallsway and St. Vincent de Paul Church in East Baltimore around 11 a.m. to hand out the sandwiches, as well as clothing donations, toiletries, vegetable soup, bananas, bottled water and hot tea.

“You are your neighbor’s keeper. We have responsibility for each other. It’s important to give back.”

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The knowledge that “it could be me or you" drives them to continue their work, Dickson said.

“The universe is always balanced," he said. "Whatever energy you put out is what’s going to come back. The things you do today might not come back and bless you, but it might bless your kids. Your mom might get a flat tire and the right guy stops by to change the tire. This is really what it’s all about.”

It’s not just one Sunday a month, either, Dickson said. He’s always happy to serve a free sandwich to a customer who can’t pay.


“If you can’t bless somebody with a sandwich," he said, "what is this world about?”

Neighbors Without Walls isn’t a nonprofit and doesn’t take donations. Instead, members of the group will generally bring something to offer, paying for their contributions themselves.

Leonard Wise, who used to work at Schmidt Baking Co., brings the bread. Cinneen Duncan and her son, Myles Neal, brought cases of water. Theresa McFadden brought cookies and brownies from the Weis supermarket.

They packed the paper sandwich bags and clothing donations to the homeless in industrial-sized trash bags and ladled the steaming soup and hot tea from large white buckets.

“You are your neighbor’s keeper,” said Duncan, a federal auditor who drives from Upper Marlboro each month to participate. “We have responsibility for each other. It’s important to give back.”

Dawn Wells, a claims specialist for the Social Security Administration who lives in Reisterstown, drove a pair of first-time volunteers, Yi Liu and her 9-year-old son, Kaie Bernal, from the cafe to the Fallsway, where they shivered as they handed the items to the homeless.

Kaie dropped a pair of Hershey’s Kisses into each bag before it was packed up for delivery.

“As a parent, it’s important to develop leadership for children and serve the community,” said Liu, a veteran who lives in Columbia. “I want him to grow up with that mindset. It’s not just about me; it’s about the community."

“Also,” she added, “it’s a lot of fun.”

A lunch and a bag of toiletries once a month might seem an almost insignificant gesture of kindness in the face of a cold winter without a place to sleep.

But it’s appreciated, said Lisa Collier, 49, who was evicted from her father’s house in North Baltimore more than a month ago. She sipped a cup of the piping hot vegetable soup on the sidewalk.

“Anytime you can save money is good,” she said.

A 61-year-old man named Halim called the food drive “a great service.”

“Thank you, baby,” he said as he accepted a cup of soup, a sandwich and a banana.

“It’s all about blessings, for me,” he said. “Put your prayers in. They get answered.”

When the helpers arrived at their second location, St. Vincent de Paul Church, they discovered they weren’t the only volunteers on the premises. So they added their offerings to the food and clothes offered by Beyond the Walls Christian Ministries, which is based at New Harvest Ministries on East Fayette Street.

Over a cup of the soup — a favorite in the shivering cold Sunday — Malik Ahmed said he lost his home on Mount Street in Sandtown-Winchester three years ago over the failure to pay a $460 water bill.

“That water bill killed me,” the 34-year-old father of four said.

Some years are more stable than others, Ahmed said. He’s been staying recently in a vacant house in East Baltimore. Since his best friend was killed, he said, he has avoided the drugs he previously used and sold. But life on the street doesn’t feel any easier when you’re sober and don’t have access to easy money.

Ahmed wants to get his kids something for Christmas. Free meals and clothes make a real difference, he said.

“This is beautiful,” Ahmed said. “This helps me out. It’s something for somebody to look forward to.”

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