EDGEWOOD, Md. — It's less than an hour before the monthly food giveaway at the Epicenter in Edgewood, and the volunteers quickly huddle up for a pep talk.
On this day, they take a moment to show support to Mary Slade, a current volunteer and former employee at the Epicenter, for being chosen as the March winner of the Chick-fil-A Everyday Heroes award.
"This award is so deserved," said April Patterson, the community outreach coordinator at Civic Works. "[Mary] has a lot on her plate but she still manages to be that community advocate and that community champion."
Slade's journey to the Epicenter started about 10 years ago, when she found herself in a tough situation.
"I was homeless about one point, for about six hours, and I called my pastor and told him what was going on," she said.
That pastor was Luke Erickson, the executive pastor at Mountain Christian Church. His wife Holly Erickson works at the Epicenter as the manager of strategic partnerships.
"He got connected with her and offered her some help in that way and ever since we’ve been good friends," Holly said.
When a job opening came up at the Epicenter, Erickson knew Slade would be the perfect fit. At the time, Slade was working with the Harford Community Action Agency and Erickson says she was known in the community as being a go-to resource for the less fortunate.
"They know Mary is a trusted source that I can come to, that will help me, that will not judge me, that will help me through the hard stuff. And so she’s gained that reputation and rightfully so."
"That’s where my heart is, to help people, to be there for them and to give them the resources that they can reach out to," said Slade.
Slade took the job as case manager and built upon her reputation as the person to come to if someone was facing tough times. The Epicenter works with people who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, unemployment, etc. and has a location in Edgewood and Aberdeen.
"I’m constantly in communication with anyone who needs help. They know where to come and they know that I’m here," she said.
Last October, she asked to resign as an employee because she needed to take a break. Slade has been living with multiple sclerosis, or MS, for about 30 years. She's continued to be part of the Epicenter as a volunteer, answering calls and setting up an emergency winter shelter in Aberdeen.
She will take the calls whenever they come, refusing to let MS hold her back from helping someone in need.
"I know that what we do, what we offer helps everyone that calls in. And that’s what we’re here for. We’re here for the community, we’re here for the homeless, we’re here for anyone who needs anything," Slade said.
Slade understands the hardships the people who come to the Epicenter are facing because she's lived through some of those same hardships. And she recognizes the importance of having someone on the other end of the line, willing to shine a light in the darkest of times.
"I have a lot of struggles but that’s why it means so much to me to help anyone who needs it," Slade said.