GREENFIELD — Peggy Couch calls them “aha moments.”
On Christmas Eve, community members donated about 200 bikes toward the Day of Love and Caring, an annual event at the fairgrounds that provides food and gifts to the community.
It was toward the end of the day; volunteers had given out all the bikes to bright-eyed children. A family with three kids arrived, and it looked like they would leave without the hoped-for bicycles.
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And then, a donor arrived, one who’d been running late but came with bikes in tow.
It’s those seemingly miraculous moments that encourage Couch as she works to feed and clothe the homeless in Hancock and Marion counties twice a week through God’s Open Arms Ministry, which has operated for the past five years out of Family Auto Repair in Greenfield.
Couch is being recognized for those efforts by United Way of Central Indiana’s 100th anniversary celebration through the “100 Heroes” campaign, which cheers 100 community leaders in honor of United Way’s 100th anniversary.
The award-winners will be honored at the 100th anniversary celebration April 20 in Indianapolis.
The heroes were nominated by their peers, family members, co-workers and friends and chosen by a nine-member volunteer committee, according to the United Way website.
“We think there’s no better way to celebrate our 100th birthday milestone than to shine the light on individuals who … go above and beyond to make a positive impact in our community,” said Allison Melangton, co-chair of the UWCI@100 committee, in a press release.
“We applaud our volunteer jury for completing the almost impossible task of choosing 100 from hundreds of submissions, as all of them are all worthy of the title, ‘hero.’”
Couch takes issues with the label. She can think of 10 people who deserve such an award before she does, she said, people who have been dedicating their lives to service longer than she has.
Her mission to help people in need and bring them the word of God was inspired by her son, Brandon Couch, who died in a car accident in April 2008. After his death, she and her family learned of his many charitable efforts during his life — putting on Bible studies, collecting items for families in need — and felt spurred to live up to his memory.
“We were awestruck,” she said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We are wasting our time here. We’re not living the way we need to be living.’”
Couch’s husband, Dean Couch, went along with her on a mission trip the year after Brandon Couch died. They traveled to Tennessee, where they learned about disaster ministries and how to spot homeless camps in urban areas. That was when they realized what they needed to do, she said.
Now, she prepares some 80 to 90 hot meals every Monday and Thursday, which are transported with a trailer to several areas — on Mondays it’s long-stay motels in Hancock County, and Thursdays it’s seven homeless camps in Marion County — and distributed along with clothes, toiletries, tarps and other items needed by homeless people to stay warm.
A volunteer corps of about 30 people helps collect donations and distribute them, and Peggy Couch is the head of the organization, Dean Couch said.
She can’t see how much good work she does and its effect on the communities she serves, he said.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “She doesn’t do it for the recognition, though; she has a heart for it.”