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Antoinette “Toni” Vines: A Heart of Service for the Birmingham Metro Area

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Mercy Deliverance Ministries founder Antoinette "Toni" Vines at the For-Word Christian Center in Ensley for a monthly food box distribution. (Frank Couch, For The Birmingham Times)
By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times

It’s a Monday morning and Antoinette “Toni” Vines is surveying the rooms of the new office space for Mercy Deliverance Ministries (MDM), which she has been operating out of her home since 2019.

Vines now has a 5,300-square-foot space in Hoover, Alabama’s, Riverchase neighborhood, where she can handle MDM’s administrative tasks, as well as meet with the organization’s stakeholders and volunteers. The building will also serve as a warehouse and distribution center.

For Vines, the founder and president of MDM, the office space is also a sign of God’s grace.

“When I got the keys to this building, I hit my knees,” she said. “I have been told by people in nonprofit development that it is almost unheard of for a nonprofit in less than three years to do what God has done with us.”

Many in nonprofit circles know that Vines has a gift for turning the ordinary into something remarkable. She turned notes from her prayer journals into plans for MDM, a nonprofit organization with a mission of breaking cycles of poverty by providing educational opportunities, health care services, and access to affordable healthy food.

To help fulfill this mission, Vines is transforming a school bus into a mobile grocery store that will offer affordable produce and pantry items to Birmingham neighborhoods that are considered food deserts, areas that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food. She hopes the mobile grocery will be up and running by late fall 2022, so she can turn her attention toward having another bus converted in a mobile health clinic.

Vines doesn’t take credit for any of this. “Everything we do should come out of our prayer lives,” said Vines, who’s a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. 

“Write the Vision, and Make it Plain …”

Though MDM has been growing quickly, the idea for the organization is nearly 20 years in the making, something placed on her heart almost 18 years ago, she said.

It wasn’t until 2018 Vines said she felt God urging her to revisit her old prayer journals. Inside she already had a name, colors, and a logo for her ministry, as well as a draft of a mission statement—in line with the Bible verse Habakkuk 2:2, part of which says, “Write the vision, and make it plain.”

“These were things that God had given me in prayer years ago, and He just said, ‘Now it’s time.’”

Still, she wasn’t clear on how she was to bring this vision to life. When her middle daughter graduated from Vestavia Hills High School in 2019, Vines and her family set out on a vacation to Spain to celebrate, but a cancelled flight led them to Hawaii instead. There Vines learned about Micronesian migrants who lack access to health care, housing, and federal benefits.

As she was traveling back home, Vines felt called to return to Hawaii for medical missions. She immediately got to work on setting up a nonprofit and had hoped to return to Hawaii in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic thwarted those plans, but it didn’t stop Vines from striving to carrying out the mission of MDM.

“We’re in quarantine, so I’m like, ‘OK, Lord, what am I supposed to do?’ And He goes, ‘I need you to feed people.’”

Vines wasn’t sure how. During her prayers, she would ask, “What does that look like?”

“God wouldn’t let me get rid of the mobile aspect,” said Vines, who began the work of creating a mobile grocery store and mobile health clinic.

Though the supply and labor shortages caused by the pandemic have delayed the completion of the food and medical buses, Vines still found a way to serve others. In October 2020, MDM worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to distribute more than 1,000 boxes of food.

Through a partnership with Birmingham’s For-Word Christian Center and with the help of area food banks, MDM distributes food boxes twice a month to local families in need. The organization also has created Homeless Care Packages that can be purchased by groups that work with people experiencing homelessness. Each kit includes a custom MDM fleece blanket, socks, hand sanitizer, bathing wipes, medical facial masks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, and lip balm, all packaged in a custom MDM mesh sports pack.

Vines found a way to serve Hawaii, too. MDM has sponsored a tiny house that was constructed through HomeAid Hawaii, a nonprofit that provides pro-bono construction and outreach services to help our those experiencing homelessness.

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“God Wastes Nothing”

A native of Mulga, Alabama, Vines was born to a 14-year-old single mother and adopted and raised by her grandparents. Though Vines knew her mother, the adoption raised questions.

“There’s just a natural search for identity and, yes, there has been a root of rejection that I’ve had to seek God for healing from,” she said. “And I didn’t meet my father until I was 26 years old.”

Nonetheless, Vines grew up bolstered by the love and support of her grandparents, Howard and Pearlie Mae Suttle, and family friends like Alma Green and Lula Queen Mills. She attended Minor High School and ran track. Whenever she received accolades in school for athletics or academics, Green made sure the good news was printed in this newspaper, The Birmingham Times.

“She was always the wind beneath my wings when she didn’t even really know it,” Vines said of Green. “I just want to acknowledge her, Miss Lula Queen Mills, and my grandparents just for being the hands and feet of Jesus to me those all those years.”

Vines gave birth to her first daughter, LaTrisha, when she was 16 years old, but this didn’t stop her from finishing high school. After graduating from Minor High School, she joined the U.S. Army Reserve, got married and divorced, and worked full-time in retail banking—all by the age of 21.

The next season of Vines’ life brought a new marriage, two more daughters, and the pursuit of another goal. After marrying Timothy Vines—now her husband of 31 years, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, and chair of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s board of directors—she went on to nursing school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and graduated in 1996.

“I tell people, ‘With a nursing degree, you can absolutely do anything. It can take you anywhere,’” said Vines, who believes her career as a nurse in an infectious disease clinic that treated HIV and AIDS patients helped prepare her for the mobile health clinic she’s working to build.

Her background in banking and the military helps her manage the business side of MDM: “I’ve done a bit of everything,” she said. “God wastes nothing.”

Vines and her husband have also worked with the American Heart Association to form a partnership between Tuskegee and Auburn universities to provide scholarships for students working toward professional degrees in the biomedical and health sciences.

A Woman of Character

Bryan Gunn, COO and CFO of EBS Services LLC, an organization that provides consulting services for bank- and corporate-owned life insurance programs, was one of the first people to join MDM’s board of directors. Gunn, who met Vines through Shades Mountain Baptist Church, signed on to help with MDM not only because he believed in the mission but also because he believed in Vines.

“I really admire her. She’s somebody that I think very highly of both in her heart and her character,” said Gunn, adding that what he admires most is Vines’ determination to excel despite challenges she’s faced along the way.

“I admire anybody who simply says, ‘I’m not going to make an excuse. I’m going to do something,’” he added.

Carol Bevil of Fuel Your Body, Feed Your Soul LLC, said MDM is a founding member of her organization.

“They have supported us through the planning stages and our initial community launch through our speaking engagements, blog promotion, and the development of our social media platforms,” Bevil said in a testimonial about the organization’s impact. “MDM has been an invaluable asset in helping refine our Common Sense Transformation program to help people heal their relationship with food through developing a Kingdom Mindset.”

As she balances work and family, a typical day for Vines, who received the 2021 Distinguished Citizen Award from Leadership Vestavia Hills, is usually a full one. Even when she’s not out distributing food or checking on the progress of the mobile grocery store and mobile health clinic, she’s busy filing reports, organizing volunteers, and answering emails and phone calls.

But she’s never too busy to pray.

“Making room, slowing down, getting quiet—that’s what it’s about,” she said. “Somebody’s always going to need something but serving them should come out of prayer and our relationship with the Lord.”

Family

While her Vines’ relationship with God informs all she does, so does her relationship with her family.

“My family has inspired my relationship with the Lord,” she said. “Out of my desire to break generational cycles of sin and provide better opportunities for my family, I turned to the Word of God for answers.”

Vines is a proud grandmother. Her oldest daughter, LaTrisha, is a stay-at-home mom who has been married to Richard D’Anna for 10 years.

“They have blessed us with two beautiful, active grandchildren—Penelope, who’s 6, and Shepard, who’s 4.”

While Vines has been building MDM, her husband and three daughters have supported her every step of the way.

“They have come alongside me with prayer, volunteer hours, and providing wisdom, guidance, and feedback,” she said. “I consult with them before anything goes public.”

When they’re not working or serving their community, Vines and her family love watching sports, from professional teams (the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Bengals, and Dallas Cowboys are among their favorites) to various college and youth sports.

Theirs is also a family of noteworthy athletes. Vines ran track in middle and high school. Her husband played baseball at Auburn University alongside the likes of big-league standouts Bo Jackson, Gregg Olson, and Frank Thomas.

Their middle daughter, Hannah, played volleyball and ran track in high school. Now as a finance major at Auburn University, she’s making moves in other fields—she recently completed her second summer internship at Goldman Sachs in New York.

And their youngest daughter, Angelica, is a multisport athlete, who lettered in track and field and volleyball at Vestavia Hills School for multiple years. She is a six-time Junior Olympian and an All-American in volleyball and track and field, she also currently holds the state 2021 Indoor Long Jump Championship and 2022 Outdoor Long Jump Championship. Angelica, who graduated from Vestavia Hills High School in May 2022, was recently named Birmingham’s Girls Athlete of the Year 2022 by AL.com.

Together the family was worked to build MDM into a nonprofit power that provides education, health care and healthy food throughout Jefferson County.

Vines doesn’t take credit for any of this. “Everything we do should come out of our prayer lives,” she said.

Mercy Deliverance Ministries (MDM) is seeking volunteers, donations, and corporate sponsorships. For more information on how you can get involved, visit the MDM website at mercydm.org and follow MDM on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @mdmgodslove.