Redeeming Lives, One Can at a Time

If there’s one verse Barb Murphy lives by, it’s Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (NLT).

It was her motto when she saw Nancy Alcorn, founder of Mercy Ministries, being interviewed on “Enjoying Everyday Life” with Joyce Meyer.  Having struggled with an eating disorder for thirty years, she couldn’t believe there was a place girls could get help free of charge.

“I want to sow into that,” Murphy thought, and she immediately started giving what she could to Mercy from her salary as a bus driver in Colorado.

It was her motto when a young woman arrived in tears to the eating disorder support group Murphy had led at her church for four years.  But she wasn’t crying because she’d had a hard week with body image or her meal plan — she was crying because she’d gone door to door all day asking her neighbors to donate money to organizations fighting sex trafficking.

One by one, they blew her off.

“I looked at her, and I said, ‘Honey, I promise you, I am going to start a nonprofit.  And even if we can only send them five dollars a month, that’s five bucks they didn’t have the month before,’” Murphy said.

That same verse was still her motto a few months later as she sat behind the wheel of a bus, driving the same route she’d driven every day.

“God, how can I collect money because the economy’s so bad?” she remembers praying.  “I just heard, ‘Cans.’ And I went, ‘Yeah! I can recycle cans,’” Murphy said.

With that, Murphy’s ministry was born.  And it was more than just an idea — it was a vision.  Murphy said when she sees a can, to her it represents a life.

“We’re a little banged up, and some of us are really smashed, like some cans are,” Murphy said.  “You can send a can off somewhere, and it comes back shiny and new.  No matter how bad it is, it comes back shiny and new.  And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do for girls and women.  I want to recycle their lives.’”

But Murphy still didn’t have a clue how to start a nonprofit.  “I knew nothing.  I just wanted to make a difference,” Murphy said.

With encouragement and guidance from her friends, she recruited volunteer board members and gave her nonprofit a name — Cans for Hope.

She started small, collecting pop cans and turning them into cash, devoting half the money to Mercy Ministries and half to International Crisis Aid, another organization fighting sex trafficking in the United States and abroad.

But as she got ready to write the check that first month, she hesitated.  The amount she was getting ready to send to Mercy just didn’t seem like enough to matter.

Then she realized, “If I have to wait for Satan to tell me the check’s big enough, it’s never going to be big enough.”

So she sent the check faithfully, and God blessed her ministry for it — in less than five months, she was able to nearly quadruple her donation.  Soon Cans for Hope was sponsoring a girl in one of the Mercy homes.  Today, they sponsor two.

That’s what it’s all about for Murphy.  She still remembers her first visit to the Mercy St. Louis home in 2007.

“I just remember, in the parking lot before I went in, just lifting it up to God and thanking him for the lives that were saved and transformed and that were going to be,” Murphy said.

As she walked around the home, she was overwhelmed.  The girls reminded her so much of herself at that age.  “I had nowhere when I was growing up, or even as an adult, to go and talk about [my struggles],” Murphy said.

“Not only do I know that when I send a check every month, a girl’s getting taken care of free of charge and she’s finding out about Jesus, but I don’t have to worry about the doors closing due to lack of funding.”

As Murphy continues to spread the word about Mercy Ministries, people sometimes ask her if she’s okay with them just sending a check directly to Mercy instead of to Cans for Hope.  Every time, she tells them, “‘Of course.  We’re just a funnel to get it there.”  Cans for Hope is just the name of an organization.  To me, I’m just a fundraiser for Mercy Ministries.”

Murphy’s dream for Cans for Hope is to sponsor an entire Mercy home and attend the groundbreaking ceremony, but even then, she won’t be satisfied.

“I had some college kids ask me, ‘Well, when will the [donations] be enough?’  I said, ‘Never.  Not until all the girls are taken care of. All.’”

For Barb Murphy and Cans for Hope, the work is still just beginning.

To find out more about Barb Murphy and Cans for Hope, visit the Web site at or call (303) 875-5700.

P.S. Check out Mercy’s edited, condensed version of this story on their Web site!


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