Food always felt like a connecting point, food could help break the barrier between uncomfortable situations. Since I was a little girl growing up in Macon, Ga, I would go with my brothers and sisters with my grandmother, who was a retired social worker, to volunteer handing out soup or organizing clothing donations. I really liked making a big pot of soup and handing it out to people that truly needed it and to see how grateful they were for that meal was astonishing. I ended falling in love with idea of helping people.
I went to college in New Orleans to get a degree in social work. This wasn’t some last minute major change, this was something I was passionate about. During that time, I helped communities in the area by passing out sandwiches after Hurricane Katrina hit. Who knew something small would help people? I’ve always been on the path of helping others, it’s just who I am. I lived in Mexico with my husband for a while, we were missionaries there. I taught English in the local schools in Mexico.
We moved to Gainesville, Ga. after returning from Mexico. While living in Gainesville, we started volunteering with our church. I homeschooled my children and we volunteered at the same local men’s homeless shelter for seven years. About a year ago, my husband and I were offered jobs at this shelter. My husband is the director and I am the assistant director. We together work 40 hours a week, 20 for him and 20 for me, and we receive no benefits. My husband drives a school bus so we can receive health insurance. Times are hard sometimes – even though my life situations are different from the people that come and eat lunch or dinner, but that doesn’t mean I am not thankful for where I am. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have my faith.
The non-profit Christian based organization where I work at now can house 20 men, but men, women and child are welcome to come to lunch. We also have worship services before dinner each night, in Spanish and English. On average, around 50 people come to lunch and dinner meals. All the meals wouldn’t be possible without the different churches that come and cook meals, or without our many volunteers. We have on average over 100 volunteers that serve every week. We have volunteers that have been serving the organization for around 20 – 30 years. Volunteers can help with the children’s ministry, help serve lunch or dinner, or help with cleaning out the warehouses. We also have people that do community service, required by a court order. At the shelter, we’d like to offer better mental health care, addiction services, and health care. That way, after they leave our shelter, they will have outside help and know where to go to receive help.
The shelter helps provide meals and showers for anyone, but we only have 20 spaces for people to stay the night. Really, this isn’t enough for the homeless population, which is why people stay under the bridge. The bridge is being evacuated and multiple people are trying to find a shelter to stay at, but we are currently full. Last week, my husband and I headed under the bridge to see if there was anything we could do to help. We were talking to multiple people and we came across a young man whose story really touched me and I wanted to help him. I told him, “The shelter is full at the moment but if someone leaves, I will see what we can do to get you in at the shelter.”
I talked to my husband later that day and he informed me that he applied before and that he didn’t fulfill everything he needed to be accepted into the shelter. Well, I said, I am going to pray and hope that something will work out. Later that week, someone left our shelter and I made sure he was the next person to be accepted. He came by the shelter for me to show him his assigned chores and I told him, “Last time I heard the reason you didn’t want to stay. I don’t know if it was true or not, but I heard it was because you didn’t want to do the chores. I’m giving you a second chance.” He looked at me very intrigued and said, “Okay! I can do this.” I am very thankful to give him a second chance.
A couple months ago at lunch, I sat down next to a lady and she looked at me from head to toe and said, “Are you rich?” To clarify, no, I am not even close. I am an average height with brown curly shoulder length hair that I get cut for $5, with hand-me-down clothes and shoes my sister gave me. I smile and say, “I live in a house.” She said “Yeah, you’re rich. Are you married? You look married.” I said, “Well my husband’s the director.” She said, “Yup. You look married.” I never saw what she did and I thought it was funny because I am thankful for what I have, but to the people at the shelter, I am rich for having a house.
Working at the shelter has given me a perspective on life that I am no better off than anybody else. Life circumstances have put me in a different place than they are, but that’s also learning humility as a Christian. Realising I am not where I am because I deserve it, because other people are battling different circumstances and my problems may seem big to me but they really aren’t. The greatest thing I have realized from being at the shelter is that we are a bridge between the people who want to serve others and people that have physical needs that need to be met. Being a part of a place that can be the bridge to help others and being a community that wants to give back, there is no better place to me.
Told by: Connie Oldmixon
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Hall County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia.