Ice Angels share warmth, hope
Mary Kaplan has been searching the racks of local thrift stores for jeans.
Dark wash, light wash, name brand or no brand.
Size two or size 16 — none of those particulars matter because the denim isn't for her.
The jeans are transformed into blankets to keep the homeless and indigent warm in cold and freezing temperatures.
Ice Angels, the ministry founded by Kaplan and her husband Lenny, 73, distribute the blankets along with hot meals, tents, shoes, coats and other outerwear each Wednesday in a church parking lot just outside downtown Oklahoma City.
Mary Kaplan, 76, said Ice Angels accepts donations of used denim jeans to make the blankets and they are currently in need of more. That's why she has been scouring resale and thrift shops for jeans to give to Sandra Roark, an Ice Angels volunteer who has put her sewing talent to good use by making the blankets.
Roark said she's made more than 200 of the jean blankets for Ice Angels and Mary Kaplan said the ministry has passed out about 125 blankets just in the last six months.
Recently, Roark took a new batch of blankets to the Kaplans as the couple and their crew of loyal volunteers fed a crowd outside Crossbridge Community Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Cornerstone Church, at 1200 S Walker.
Once a month, Roark supplies dessert for Ice Angels' Wednesday outeach but she is always working on the blankets. She said she assembles squares of denim in assembly line fashion and sews the fabric into blankets with three all-metal sewing machines.
She's hoping kindhearted members of the community will donate old jeans and thread to help keep her blanket ministry going.
"Years ago, my house burned and somebody helped us so I just feel like I have a talent — why not use it. I feel like the Lord has helped me and given me this talent to use," Roark said.
For the Kaplans, the blankets are just one more way they can help people living on the streets.
'Pop up' homeless outreach
Ironically, the couple didn't come up with the name Ice Angels because they offer aid to the homeless during cold weather.
The ministry was started and got its name about 10 years ago, when temperatures soared above 100 degrees. The Kaplans decided to pass out cold water and ice to homeless people they drove by on the way to their house of worship at the time, Epworth United Methodist Church. The couple said they saw a large group of homeless congregating under an Interstate 40 bridge and began distributing the cool relief to help combat the heat wave.
After this became a regular Sunday thing, one of the grateful people under the bridge gave the couple the name that has stuck with them all these years.
"One of the men who came up said, 'You guys are really angels bringing this ice water. You're really icy angels. And that's where the name came from," Lenny Kaplan said.
The Kaplans said their donations and volunteers are mostly from their church, Mosaic United Methodist and other United Methodist churches. They also receive aid from churches of other denominations like Grace Episcopal Church in Yukon and Crossbridge Community CME Church, which lets them set up their weekly outreach in the church's parking lot and helps provide food on a regular basis. Several volunteer barbers, including Mosaic member Craig Jackson, offer free haircuts for those in the crowd who want one.
Marcus Bruner said the Ice Angels helped him when he was down and out. He said he's no longer homeless but he visits the ministry's outreach to gather items for people in the homeless camps who can't fend for themselves.
"I've been dealing with Ice Angels for years. I think they're beautiful people," Bruner said.
The Rev. Tim Baer, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, agreed.
"Mary and Lenny are the big force here, we're just helping out," he said.
Baer was one of the volunteers at the recent Ice Angels outing. People formed a circle and bowed their heads as he said a blessing for the free meal of Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, peach cobbler and bananas.
Prior to the prayer, volunteers had set up tables and benches for people to eat their lunch and visit together. Another set of tables were placed next to the Ice Angels food trailer to hold boxes of hygiene kits, clothing, blankets, pocket knives and other items to be distributed.
Baer said about eight people from his church volunteer with the ministry.
He said he liked the grassroots nature of Ice Angels.
"It's kind of organized in an hour — it kind of pops up. And in that hour, 150 people are getting fed. I like institutions, but it's a non-institutional thing that's happening — a community of friends coming together to help others."
The Kaplans said they will continue Ice Angels as long as people need the help they provide.
Lenny Kaplan has suffered a heart attack and been through two bouts of cancer in the years since they started the ministry. After his health was restored, he found his way back to the ministry he loves — an Ice Angel whose wings may be a little worn but still very much capable of flying.
"One of our volunteers who was out here the other day said it best," he said.
"She said 'If all of these people can be out here 24/7, I can be out here for two hours.' That's the way we all see it."
How to help
For more information or to make a donation to the Ice Angels ministry, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to https://mosaicokc.org/ice_angels. To donate denim jeans or thread to Sandra Roark, contact her at 568-1080 or email email@example.com.