She was there from the beginning. When Sister Grace was hunting for a location on Central Park, Juanita Washington led her to a little place that became the first House of Mercy.
After that, Juanita volunteered to do anything and everything. And for years, she worked here almost every day. She put together racks for clothing. She handed out clothes and bread. And she cooked and cooked, helping to feed homeless people in Rochester who had nowhere else to turn.
“A lot of them were sleeping in the street and in boarded up homes and they weren’t getting anything to eat. Then when we opened up, they started to come from all over. If we hadn’t started the House of Mercy, a lot of them would have died. They wouldn’t have made it.”
When the lines of hungry people grew longer, Juanita found a huge table so she could feed 30 people at a time. And when the House moved into bigger quarters on Hudson Avenue, Juanita started cooking for as many as 150 or 200 people at a time.
“Jesus said to help those who can’t help themselves. That’s the way I was raised up. That’s what I believe. My mother would get out of bed at midnight to help someone. I’m the same way.”
Juanita’s in a wheelchair now. She lost a leg to an illness. She’s 83. But she’s already planning to walk back into the House of Mercy on an artificial leg so she can resume a volunteer career that dates back to a chance encounter with Sister Grace in 1985.
“When I get back on my feet, I’ll go over there and help ‘em,” she vows.“It’s a special place. And all of the people there are my heart. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. They have helped so many in this town.
“I don’t think any other place around does what the House of Mercy does for the hungry and homeless.”