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'Mystery Man' helps feed thousands

By Mark Price

The Associated Press

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The details are always the same.

A courier shows up every six to eight weeks at west Charlotte's New Outreach Christian Center, carrying a sealed envelope stuffed with money.

No name, no return address, no contact information.

It's little wonder the mission has taken to calling the donor "the Mystery Man."

The courier, who identifies himself only as Norman, has instructed the church that the Mystery Man wants neither his name, nor the amount of money he's given to be made public.

Even Norman says he doesn't know how much is in the envelope, says Pastor Brenda Stevenson, director of the ministry that feeds and clothes struggling people.

"A year ago November, this man just started showing up with an overnight envelope ... and he said, 'Hi, I have something for you from the Mystery Man,'" she recalls.

"I thought he was an angel. Inside was nothing but cash. ... I can't say how much, but I can tell you that he has helped feed thousands of people."

Norman says he works for the Mystery Man, but Stevenson says she knows nothing beyond that.

Whoever he is, the Mystery Man's timing was perfect for a church ministry that has struggled from a lack of big sponsors and grants that stabilize the budgets of larger nonprofits.

New Outreach survives largely on small donations from individuals, from small amounts of cash to used clothing and food often nearing expiration.

Its programs include free clothing for the poor and elderly, a food pantry and free hot meals on Wednesdays, and free toys and food for low-income families on holidays.

The recession has increased the knocks at the door, prompting Stevenson to make public pleas for donations, particularly during the holidays.

Charlotteans have responded in overwhelming numbers, making headlines on Christmas Eve 2009 by donating 1,000 hams in a matter of hours. In 2010, donors came up with almost 1,000 Thanksgiving turkeys.

Among the big givers this past Thanksgiving was a Charlotte business owner offering nearly 300 turkeys.

He, like the Mystery Man, has continued to support the ministry, coming back month after month with truckloads of food and volunteers from his staff to help do the cooking.

"It was Pastor Stevenson's spirit that touched me," said the business owner, who also prefers to remain anonymous.

"She's been doing this for years and had no partner in the community, just a lot of hope. When I met her, I sensed I was in the presence of someone who has boundless love for her fellow man."

New Outreach has been offering programs to help the elderly and poor for nearly 30 years. It moved near the intersection of Brookshire Freeway and Interstate 85 after it lost its first building to arson in 1995. For a time, it limited its aid to those living nearby. But the recession has brought in growing numbers from across the city, says Stevenson.

Programs that began serving 200 people in the mid-80s are now helping as many as 2,500, particularly the toy giveaways on Christmas.

It was a plea for help last Thanksgiving that first got the attention of the Mystery Man, Stevenson says.

The money he donates buys staples for the church's food pantry and helps pay utility bills for people like Patricia McNair, 55, a mother of three who was out of work for a time.

"I was at a point in my life where I didn't know where to turn," says McNair. "The greatest thing they offer here at the ministry is a belief that things will get better, and they did."

Stevenson says the Mystery Man has done the same for her, giving her hope that the ministry can continue to stand against the rising tide of need.

"I'd like to know who the Mystery Man is," she admits, "but I'm not going to question God. I'm just grateful. God always makes a way, and that's why there's a Mystery Man."