Every week for more than a decade, Peggy Pyle has brought Grace & Grits to those who need them most
Like clockwork, every Wednesday afternoon, Peggy Pyle leaves her home in Heathrow to feed the area’s homeless and anyone else in need of a hot meal. Her 10-year journey as a volunteer with the Grace & Grits initiative began in 2008 when her church was seeking volunteers to help feed the homeless community in and around Sanford. She’s never looked back. Helping those less fortunate is woven into her life’s fabric. And dignity is always top-of-mind.
“We serve the people,” explains Peggy, who has lived in Seminole County for more than 30 years. “That’s important. They don’t stand in line.”
Peggy says that every week a local entity – usually a church, sometimes a local Rotary Club – is responsible for bringing the evening’s meal to the appointed Grace & Grits location. Most of the food is donated. For the past two years, First United Methodist Church in Sanford has played host to the program. Peggy and a half-dozen other volunteers work side-by-side with church members to not only feed those in need, but share with them their compassion.
“Grace & Grits was originally initiated at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Sanford and has grown to a large community and faith-based program in Lake Mary and Sanford,” says Amy Jennings, parish administrator at St. Peter’s Lake Mary, one of
the many churches that supply the Wednesday meals. She says Grace & Grits was launched 28 years ago by Betty and Bob Sonnenberg and Ernie Mander.
Peggy notes that Grace & Grits is more than just a meal service. The program has expanded to offer flu shots and other services, too. Volunteers also help those who return regularly for food, referring them to agencies that can help with housing options or employment assistance. Grace & Grits has become an advocacy mission as much as a meal service.
“We recently had a man come by who had just gotten out of jail,” explains Peggy. “I sent him to my church and, within a week, he had a job and a car. Grace & Grits is a gift to me. I just enjoy helping people.”
Ryan Bozeman, director of community engagement for First United Methodist and leader of the Grace & Grits initiative, says it’s Peggy’s dedication he admires most.
“It is nice to have that level of consistency in a volunteer,” Ryan says. “And she is a convincing, vocal supporter of what we do.”
A Lifetime of Nurturing
A month before she became a Grace & Grits mainstay, Peggy lost an adult daughter who suffered from a mental illness. While that was not the impetus for her to join Grace & Grits, her personal experiences proved to be a blessing.
“People would look at my daughter like she was a lesser individual,” Peggy says, noting that some in the community look at the homeless and indigent the same way. “It’s a wonderful group of people we help. We need to help people who are troubled.”
Now a semi-retired accountant for her son’s business, Peggy has enjoyed a number of careers throughout her life, many associated with giving back. She worked in the Seminole County Public Schools system teaching English as a Second Language (ESOL) for two years, and she served as a Guardian ad Litem to help children in foster care. Today, in addition to Grace & Grits, Peggy volunteers for SafeHouse of Seminole and the Picnic Project, another initiative to feed the homeless.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Peggy is a mother to five children – four girls and one boy. And it’s her maternal instincts that are exactly what some families need from a Grace & Grits volunteer. As an example, Peggy recalls a six-year-old boy who was recently having dinner with his 22-year-old brother.
“He was not only hungry, but hungry for attention,” she says of the young boy. “He had a dog, so I showed him pictures of my dogs. The last night I saw him, he ran into my arms. When a little boy looks at me and says, ‘You are wonderful,’ that’s all I need. Grace & Grits has been very fulfilling.”
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