At 79 years young, Mary Kaplan and her husband Lenny, 76, have made public service their life's work, and every week for the last 12 years, the couple has dedicated their time to making sure that homeless individuals have a warm meal, clean clothes and a kind word.
The Kaplans, who recently renewed their vows after celebrating 43 years of marriage, have a long history of involvement with social issues, and they've dedicated their lives to causes that affect people's health and safety.
"Lenny and I lived in Florida at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, so we've worked a lot with AIDS patients. We worked on helping develop the first blood test for HIV,” Mary Kaplan said. “So for all this time we've been involved one way or another. Lenny told me when we got married that we'll never be bored, and well, wasn't that true."
After spending 45 years as a critical care nurse, Mary retired in 2010, but helping people wasn't something she could simply stop doing.
"On our way to church, we saw about 30 to 40 people gathered under what used to be the I-40 bridge," Mary Kaplan said. "The temperatures were well over 100 degrees. They all looked so hot and so miserable. When we came back, they were still there, only the group was larger. I said, ‘That's terrible; somebody should do something.’ Lenny and I looked at each other, and he said well, 'I guess we're somebody.'"
The couple quickly sprung into action, and that one afternoon's good deeds would turn into more than a decade of service people in the community would come to rely on.
- Berlin Green
"We went home and got some ice water and came back out and started handing it out," Kaplan said. "It continued to be hot, so we kept doing it three days a week, just going into town and passing out ice water to everyone we could find. Then one of those times somebody said, you know, I'm really hungry. So we started making sandwiches and bringing fruit. From there it just kept growing and more and more people have gotten involved."
A grant allowed them to purchase a concession trailer to make hot food on site, and, after some struggle to find a consistent place to set up feedings, the Crossbridge Community CME Church donated their parking lot to the cause. Now, each Wednesday at noon, you'll find the Kaplans and more than a dozen volunteers — operating as the Ice Angels of Mosaic — handing out hot meals, clothes, blankets, hygiene kits and other necessities at 1200 S. Walker Ave.
"We've been here at this site for five years now," Kaplan said. "Before we came here, we would just go to different areas trying to serve the same people and eventually get kicked out. The pastor here is very dedicated to serving the homeless community, so we have a home here for a long time to come."
Several churches and volunteers gather each week to help the Kaplans continue their mission. The Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma visits the site twice a month to provide pet food and needed care supplies.
"Our goal is always to provide a hot, nutritious meal," she said. "A lot of times they just get chips and hotdogs, so our goal is definitely to give them something healthy that always includes a protein, salad, vegetable and water. The homeless will give up their food to their pets before they'll eat themselves, so having the pet food pantry come out is wonderful — it ensures everyone is able to eat.
On this April day, Ice Angels served 97 meals. Kaplan has seen a lot of the same faces over the years, and as the homeless problem continues to grow in downtown Oklahoma City, new ones appear every week.
'Last month, we served 405 people; for the year, it's about 4,000,” she said. "I'm 79 years old. I'm hoping that it slows down, but, of course, I don't see much of a chance of that. The problem has grown a lot over the years. There are those that come and go, and when you don't see them for a while, you really worry about what is happening. There's a lot of sad stories, but some really incredible stories too."
The Ice Angels rely solely on the time and generosity of donors and volunteers, all of whom proudly come together to support the cause.
"One of the things that I love about this is that its groups of people from different places, from different churches and organizations coming together simply to serve those in need in our community," said Andre Contino, a pastor at the Moore First United Methodist Church. "Because we've been doing this for a while now, we get to know a lot of the people we serve on a first-name basis. You're able to build relationships and make a great impact. It's a blessing for us and for those we serve."
To learn more about Ice Angels or how you can help, visit www.mosaicokc.org/missions__outreach