More Everyday Heroes



MUSCOY - Sister Mary McKinney has been called "a saint for the needy."

McKinney has been in the trenches for 35 years, feeding the hungry, finding shelter for the homeless, caring for the county's poorest residents.

McKinney helps her husband, the Rev. Jesse McKinney, minister to congregants of St. Stephen's Church in Muscoy.

Through her ministry, she finds those in need of the most basic necessities and as a minister and co-founder of the nonprofit Samaritan Social Services, she answers her calling to feed the needy.

The diminutive McKinney, who barely clears 5 feet, believes in feeding the spirit as well as the body.

There's never a day she doesn't think about sharing.

She also shares her Christian message.

"The message we get from the Lord is about sharing - we have to learn to share," she said. "God shared his son with us and that's the reason for everything that we do."

McKinney said she didn't realize that until she embraced the Lord with all her heart.

For decades she has been feeding more than 100 people in her front yard each Thursday, sending hundreds more home with bags of groceries.

It is ironic that McKinney gives so much when she has so little.

"There's so much joy in giving, no matter what we have. We can never give up on people," McKinney said.

On holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, she feeds as many as 1,000. The Christmas feast, set this year for noon to 4 p.m. today, also includes gifts for about 400 children, a clothes giveaway, and food bag giveaway.

Festivities also include live music and arts and crafts.

Families will take home food baskets as well.

This year's feast marks the 28th annual event.

On a mid-December morning, she sorted through some of the donated toys in the sanctuary of the church. Toys were donations from Santa Claus Inc., as well as area churches.

This particular day, there was going to be a wedding ceremony at noon.

The bride and groom, Soncherray Dupree and Anthony Hightower Sr., had just arrived on Amtrak from Lancaster.

McKinney's husband counseled the bride and groom while she discussed today's Christmas feast.

Dupree's son, Demitrius Hill, 18, served as best man, while family friend Linda Wright was matron of honor.

The wedding was meaningful because McKinney had saved Dupree's life when she was addicted to drugs - had prayed with her and helped her with her recovery.

Dupree calls McKinney "Mama" because she stood by her, staying up through the night in Dupree's darkest hours.

"I prayed to God not to let her die," McKinney remembered.

McKinney, who grew up on a ranch in Texas, found herself pregnant at 19 - with no place to live.

She went to Michigan and a kind family there took her into their home for two years while she got an education and earned her own money.

"God didn't give up on me, and somehow, miracles happen," she said.

"I figured I owed a debt, so when I met my husband, Pastor McKinney, we immediately started a church and then a shelter on the corner of H and Eighth streets in downtown San Bernardino."

They sheltered many people who are homeowners now.

"If we can't make a difference in someone's life, we're just wasting our time," she said.

"We have to share. It doesn't matter if we're rich or poor, black, white - none of that matters as long as we share."


Contact Michel via email, by phone at 909-386-3859, or follow her on Twitter @MichelNolan.