Christmas morning holds common traditions for most—exchanging gifts, worship, spending time with family.
Westerville resident Mercy Ovuworie has a Christmas tradition, too, but it involves helping make the holiday as special as possible for hundreds of homeless and less-fortunate people at Faith Mission on East Eighth Avenue in Columbus.
For almost 20 years, the 62-year-old wife, mother and grandmother has spent about six hours each Christmas making sure the people who line up outside Faith Mission enjoy a meal with all the trappings.
“And if it’s something [we don’t have], she goes out of her way to pay for it, because she knows it is needed to round out a hearty meal,” said Vanita Nevis, a 2017 Everyday Hero who nominated Ovuworie.
The two women met around 2002, when Ovuworie became a member of the Prayer Warriors, led by Vince Davis. The Prayer Warriors also served dinners at Faith Mission, and after Davis died in 2006, Ovuworie stepped in. “I wanted to continue his legacy,” she said.
“I told her if she wanted to do it, I’d be there with her,” said Nevis, who continues to help with the planning of special-events meals at Faith Mission.
“It’s her who gets all the volunteers together and keeps it all going,” Nevis said.
After Davis’ death, Ovuworie renamed the organization that serves the meals at Faith Mission to the Friends of Vince Davis. Organizing the events at Faith Mission has provided Ovuworie with the opportunity to help people beyond her capacity as a nurse at OhioHealth Marion General Hospital, she said.
With the help of her husband, Fidelis, and their three children, the family’s Christmas Day ritual turned into weeks of planning, including the deployment of dozens of volunteers to carry out each event. “It takes about 40 to 50 volunteers,” said Ovuworie, who makes calls and sends emails to assemble the volunteer team.
The hours invested to marshal the volunteers, obtain and prepare the food and serve the meals come after her full-time job as a nurse, a job that followed her certification from nursing school at Otterbein College and her immigration to the United States from Nigeria.
Meals are served daily at Faith Mission, but the Christmas Day meal and the summer picnic on the second Saturday of August represent an effort much greater than the mission’s typical meals. “We serve meals every day, but these are special meals that include all kinds of foods that aren’t usually served here or any other kinds of shelters,” Ovuworie said.
For the summer picnic, the fare includes barbecued ribs, fresh fruits and a variety of desserts. As many as 300 people are fed at the summer picnic, Ovuworie said. The number of people served during the Christmas Day meals usually is a little fewer, Ovuworie said.
When Ovuworie first began organizing the meals, her three children—between the ages of 28 and 35—would join her and her husband at the Faith Mission from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Christmas. “We all went together to help make sure everyone was fed,” she said.
“Mercy has given up her family Christmas these past years to ensure that those less fortunate have a meal, a smile and a prayer to provide a merry Christmas [and] a wonderful cookout in the summer,” Nevis said.