Dolly Martin catches her breath before lifting a massive bin from her overflowing U-Haul van. Straining from the weight, she pivots and just gets it over to a folding table in the small parking lot in downtown Phoenix. Between trips to the van, she wipes the sweat from her brow, then moves on with excitement and urgency.
Surrounding Martin are rows of tents and makeshift canopies that stretch for blocks. Clothes dry along chain-link fences, and overstuffed shopping carts line sidewalks. Remembering faces and names from her last visit and attentive in every interaction, she greets people warmly as they emerge from their tarps.
In early 2021 Martin launched an organization to provide relief, at least in a small way, for people experiencing homelessness. Now, one day a month she brings essential items to about a hundred people. “We always go there with cold drinks, snacks,” she said. “But every month we bring something [special]—mats, blankets, shoes, or coats.”
Martin’s always had a heart for those in homelessness. From childhood to life as a single mother, she lived on the razor-thin edge of extreme poverty. “I had to work three jobs just to make ends meet, and I still never made ends meet,” she said. “I know how it is to be poor.”
Sometimes the heartache of pain and hopelessness was too much to bear. It wasn’t until she discovered Dr. Charles Stanley on the radio that she found a sense of peace amid the struggle. “If it wasn’t for Dr. Stanley, and him being used by God, I don’t know where my life would be,” she said. Because he pointed her toward the compassionate promises of Christ, her emotional pain dissipated. “I felt loved. I felt released.”
As Martin got back on her feet and became financially stable, she thought about the pain of her past and wanted to lift up others in like circumstances. “Dr. Stanley had a message talking about how you never really live your life until you actually give it away. It just really ministered to me,” she said.
Early in her outreach, Martin struggled to pull together resources for her monthly event. Using her garage at home, she slowly acquires items, filling the spaces around her car and personal storage bins. This is where she plans and organizes, with the bulk of the packing and loading still squarely on her shoulders. “It’s very hard to get volunteers. But I’m [willing to go] there by myself. Even if it’s just me, one is enough.”
With each item, Martin leaves an encouraging message or Bible verse, to make sure that the hope of the gospel is shared with everyone. She walks from tent to tent, talking and praying with individuals. Despite the Arizona heat and demanding labor, she is determined to make known the freedom and love she has in Christ. “I don’t want to just hand people things. I like to tell them about the hope I’ve found,” Martin said. “I remember those days that I felt so hopeless. People need to know there’s more to life than that.”