LOUISVILLE — A short walk to dinner in the nation’s capital became a life-changing experience for 8-year-old Meghan DeLuca. The New Jersey native was walking with her family in Washington, D.C., and came across several homeless people, including a few who were sleeping in boxes. Instead of ignoring them or closing her eyes to their anguish, young Meghan made a compassionate choice to do something about it. Four years later, with the help of her congregation at First Presbyterian Church of Belmar, she’s raised nearly $8,000 to help homeless individuals and families get back on their feet.
With the help of her mom, Meghan found her calling at Cardboard Box City, a one-night, annual event held near her home that raises money for a Family Promise shelter. In Cardboard Box City, participants build their own shelters out of cardboard on a Friday night, partake in a soup line dinner, listen to music and formerly homeless people convey their experiences. Participants then retire to their newly crafted cardboard “homes” for the evening. But to take part, you need to raise money.
“Meghan decided she wanted to have a ‘lemonade’ stand and sell rainbow bracelets,” Erin DeLuca, Meghan’s mom, said in a story she wrote for the church newspaper in November 2014. “All year she and her Aunt Cathy made various rainbow loom bracelets, key chains and pencil toppers. She sold the items in her stand throughout the summer.”
In that first year, Meghan raised around $1,000 for Family Promise. In 2016, she upped that amount to approximately $4,000 with the help of donations from her congregation and the Monmouth Presbytery, which donated their entire $1,000 offering from a September meeting.
Meghan does not limit herself, or her family, to a one-night-a-year commitment. She recently included her mother, brother and others from her church in feeding homeless families that were staying with a local Baptist church. She helps her Sunday school prepare bag lunches that are distributed to women and children that attend the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) clinic held monthly at Belmar; walks with the CROP Walk; and performs Minutes for Mission around Belmar’s hunger ministry program. Many credit her for bringing homelessness and hunger issues to the congregation’s attention.
“She motivates so many people through her experience and her love, and she just has such a big heart,” said Nancy Steel, a member at First Presbyterian Church Belmar. “If it were not for Meghan we would not have been at the Cardboard Box City events or Family Promise. She is definitely an advocate for the homeless and the hungry.”