DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Month after month since the start of this year, Miranda Heard has spent her time and paychecks in the service of others.
She makes sack lunches -- dozens at a time -- and then drives around to give the food to people experiencing homelessness.
“Normally I do 50. But the last time I had 50, and I had more people. So now I’m doing 100,” said Heard, 64, surrounded by chips, cookies and water bottles stacked in her Delhi Township home. “As I see it grows, then I will grow with it.”
Heard does it all under the auspices of her nonprofit organization called Praise These Hands, but she doesn’t yet have 501(c)(3) status and can’t offer a tax deduction for contributions.
So while she’s planning to sell T-shirts and other items to raise money for her work, she said up to this point she’s been paying for all the food she prepares and packs each month.
She does it, she said, because she was homeless herself when she left Cincinnati for Los Angeles in 2013. She lived in shelters on Skid Row and got back on track with the help of the Union Rescue Mission and Downtown Women’s Center there.
She returned to Cincinnati in 2017 and works full time packing items for customers and shipping them out. Now she’s determined to give back, she said, and help people who are struggling. Plus, Heard said, she doesn’t consider her paychecks her own anyway.
“It ain’t my money,” she said. “It’s the Lord’s money.”
Joe Altepeter, the chief social enterprise officer at Downtown Women’s Center, said he’s not surprised to hear about Heard’s work here.
He remembers when she was enrolled in the center’s job-training program, he said.
“She was really amazing to see,” he said. “I didn’t know much about her personal story around her homelessness. But I just saw this amazing person with amazing tenacity.”
The center helped Heard get a job in retail after she completed the program, he said, and she became an advocate for the organization. She even accompanied Altepeter for an interview at KTLA 5, a Los Angeles television station, to talk about what Downtown Women’s Center meant to her.
“We actually got a $25,000 gift from a woman that saw Miranda on the news program and was amazed at the story she shared,” Altepeter said. “She has a really great way of captivating people.”
Heard spoke often about returning to Cincinnati, he said, and she called him for advice before starting her nonprofit.
“She talked about wanting to give back to where she received,” he said.
And that’s exactly what Heard is doing now.
‘I want to give’
On a recent morning, she had a folding table set up in her living room, lined with rows of paper sacks, cartons of chips and cookies and dozens of water bottles stacked nearby.
She washed her hands, put on plastic gloves and began scooping chunks of chicken into a large plastic container before breaking it into smaller pieces.
“I’m gonna make two kinds of chicken salad,” she said. “I’m gonna make one with onions and green peppers and one without, because, see, I know how people are.”
Some people don’t like onions and peppers, she said, and she wants the people who get her food to enjoy it.
“Right now, it’s just about feeding the homeless,” she said. “It ain’t about me. It’s about the homeless.”
Heard can afford to make and distribute the lunches once a month, she said, but she hopes to expand.
“I just wanna help, that’s all. I want to give,” she said, as she smashed the chicken chunks. “I think about, are they gonna enjoy it. I think about, I wish I could do more. See right now, my funds are limited. But I always save up enough to do this.”
That’s not all she does.
Heard said people give her boxes of food that she then distributes to families in need. She started giving them to Santa Maria Community Services to distribute, she said, after seeing a story about the agency on the news.
“Miranda came to our office unexpectedly on a Friday, and she told me that she had all these food boxes that she was receiving. And she wanted to give it to us,” said Francesca Phillis, a case manager for Santa Maria’s Stable Families program. “I think within a week, all 17 boxes were gone.”
The boxes were filled with nonperishable food like ramen noodles, peanut butter and cereal bars, she said, and the families that Santa Maria serves were eager to get them.
‘I’m making it happen’
“It means so much because some of them are just living, you know, dollar to dollar,” Phillis said. “And if we can give them food so they don’t have to spend it at the grocery store, that really helps with their budgets.”
Heard said she wants to do more.
She wants to be able to prepare and distribute lunches more frequently, she said, and have a food truck someday that delivers hot meals to people who are homeless.
She dreams of being able to distribute soap, T-shirts, socks and even gym shoes, too.
But for now, Heard said, she’s listening to the Lord and doing what she can.
“It’s hard, but I’m making it happen,” she said. “I don’t have jack. But I’ve got the Lord. And that’s all that matters to me. I’m blessed.”
Along the way she listens to the stories of people who are hurting, men and women going through some of the same struggles she did when she lived in Los Angeles.
“I told my people in California, I’m gonna get me some clown shoes,” Heard said. “With your regular shoes, you hear these stories, you swell up. Your feet hurt, your heart hurts, your mind hurts. So I figure I’ll get me some clown shoes, and I can hold it all in, you know.”
Heard laughed hard at the thought, saying, “I get silly like that.”
She likes to laugh, she said, almost as much as she likes to give back.
Miranda Heard said she welcomes donations to help with the work of Praise These Hands, but those donations are not tax deductible. For more information, email email@example.com.
Acts of Kindness stories appear weekly on WCPO 9 News and WCPO.com. If you know about an act of kindness that you think should be highlighted, email firstname.lastname@example.org.