Annie Mae Johnson finds her passion in feeding the needy
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
The voice in Annie Mae Johnson’s head told her to go buy fish to feed people in need.
At first the 84-year-old retiree hedged. When she heard it a second time, she took heed.
But she found that the fish house was shutting down and the building was up for lease. She immediately saw an opportunity to do more than serve fish to the needy.
Johnson bought the building and opened a storefront where anyone could go and get groceries and clothing free. That was four years ago. But long before that, Project Annie Mae was up and running.
For 18 years now Johnson has been feeding the homeless or anyone who wants to stop by for a meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The voice she heard was God, Johnson insisted.
“I feel like if I do what he says,” she said, “I’ll get into his kingdom.
“I’ll do it for as long as the Lord wants me to do it. I don’t want to be sitting and I don’t want to be sick. I just do his work.”
Johnson is already ramping things up for this year’s food giveaway. Greater Mount Pleasant, the church where Johnson worships, helped her kick off the drive with a fundraiser. The fundraiser was an event of music, singing and spoken words.
Johnson estimated that the church event raised about $1,800, with one of her six children, Willie, donating $1,000. She figures that the fund-raising drive will produce about $3,000.
She’ll also get a lot more help in the form of cooked food and volunteer helpers when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. Adam Jameson will be right there, as he was at the fundraiser.
“When somebody has a heart for people and actually does something about it; she puts her words into action,” Jameson said. “She actually helps the community come together.”
When Johnson opened the former fish house at 625 West Fourth Avenue, she catered to young people with struggles making ends meet. However, she said she had to shift her focus to helping needy senior citizens. The younger people weren’t making any effort to change their situation with her help, she said.
She opens the store on the first three Saturdays of each month, giving away food and clothing.
“I can’t stress enough how proud we are of mother Annie Johnson; the things that she does for the community, how selfless she is and how much she cares for other people,” Jameson said. “We live in a day now where our president (Donald Trump) doesn’t want to do anything for people.
“She saw a problem in the community and she went and did something about it.”
That’s what attracted Liz Rush to support Project Annie. She drove from her home in Havana to help with the fundraiser, just like she has done to help during the holiday giveaway.
“I’m just so fortunate that I’m not one in the line and that I’m able to give my time to this,” said Rush, a retired human resources director at FSU law school. “I enjoy it and I love her.”
Even with the help she gets, preparing food for as many as 1,200 people during each of the holidays it’s tiresome work, Johnson said. There is no slowing down in Johnson’s future, though.
The reward is too gratifying, she said.
“I feel great that the Lord has enabled me to help (the needy,” she said. “It’s good because I meet a lot of people. I don’t meet any strangers. Even if somebody is negative I try to get something good out of it.”