In early 2016, Marti and Archie Baker were serving weekly meals with Lost Sheep Ministry, a homeless outreach program that hosts weekly meals under the I-40 bridge downtown. It was work they felt called to do, but something about the two-hour Wednesday night event felt unfinished. Something tugged on Marti’s heart.
“Next thing I know, Marti said, ‘I think I could do more,’,” says Archie. Feeding hungry people and praying with them was important, and it would continue, but there was something else Marti wanted to do. There was no ignoring the nudge she felt. They talked to their church about a partnership, and by April, the Bakers and other volunteers were offering monthly meals and a haircut, a service she felt strongly would help restore dignity to people who were struggling.
“I looked around and thought, ‘Yes, Lord, I’ll cut their hair,’” she recalls. Marti had been a stylist for 40 years and owns Salon LaRue on Kingston Pike. She had connections all over the city. This was her wheelhouse. This was the gift she was equipped to give.
The evolution of CareCuts hasn’t been without challenges. A few months into their new endeavor, they had to move locations, and then they had to move locations again. Then a pandemic hit, and that brought a whole new set of logistical challenges. By 2020, CareCuts had grown into a large monthly gathering of people – those willing to serve and those who needed help.
“When Covid started, I felt like we were essential but the city didn’t agree. So, I went home and that was the day I cried,” says Marti. “But we figured out how to make it work. We were grab-and-go for a year and a half. We spray-painted the sidewalk with lines six feet apart. We moved around however we needed. We started whatever we could. Then we saw the relationships starting, and I wanted to do it every Sunday.”
By 2021, CareCuts – with its motto Restoring Dignity. Restoring Lives. – had grown into a full-scale weekly operation at 519 Williams Street. They also provided a hot meal, clothes, first aid, and administrative help obtaining Social Security cards, birth certificates, and, in some cases, bus tickets. If needed, folks could get a haircut.
“Today we’re sending three or four people to rehab. They’ve asked for our help, so we’ve set it up,” says Kecia Armstrong, director of CareCuts. “We have connections with halfway houses and can arrange transportation for them.”
The organization operates entirely on donations, and no one is paid for the work done on Sunday mornings. Volunteers arrive by 7:30 a.m. and get busy. Marti insists on not micro-managing their time, so there is no volunteer coordinator to contact or long process to get started. In the truest sense of the definition, Marti and her team ask people to show up, and they do.
“The energy of it starts at the top,” says Kecia. “In here, it’s peaceful. Many of these folks have severe mental illness. Many times, they come in here and fall asleep in the chairs because they’re exhausted and cannot find rest anywhere. They come because of the atmosphere. They feel loved here.”
CareCuts helps an average of 200 people in need every Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but preparations are already underway days prior. There’s administrative work to do, donations to process, and supplies to organize. None of it would happen without volunteers and cooperation from other organizations, such as K-Town Connect and area churches.
“Mayor Jacobs with Knox County donated two brand new computers and a printer/scanner,” says Marti. “Once a month, you can sign up for Section 8 housing, but these people don’t have a computer. So, we’re going to build a computer station to help them sign up for housing.”
It’s this sort of contribution that gives Marti hope that her dream of a day center is possible, a place where people can shower, eat, wash their clothes, and work on housing and job applications. Until then, she and her supercrew of volunteers will continue doing the work of helping with the most immediate needs, loving them and praying with them, and keeping the door open for the next opportunity to make a bigger impact.
“One man waited three months on his fingerprints, so I just went over to the new Chief of Police and asked for his help. It came the next day,” says Marti, smiling. “I never think about not doing this.”
Men’s clothes, specifically jeans (waist sizes 28-36)
Women’s undergarments, gloves, and comfortable shoes (all sizes)
New ADA compliant portable shower facilities (the current portable shower is from 1972 and not handicapped accessible)
First aid supplies
OTC medications (heartburn, cold/flu, allergies, pain reliever, lice treatment)
Donations are accepted on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 519 Williams Street. Learn more about the organization, or sign up to volunteer at CareCutsKnox.org.