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Posted: June 19, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Coffee and concert to help the homeless

A Newton County man is hoping an evening of coffee and music will help residents in need of some of the most support: those without access to food and shelter.

Brian David Barnard, founder of Project Hands and Feet, is presenting a benefit concert at Square Perk Café Saturday June 21 from 6-8 p.m. for the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter. Tax-deductible donations will be accepted throughout the concert that will go directly to the shelter.

Singer-songwriter Barnard will perform along with folk/bluegrass group Berteal and bluegrass group The Apostles of Bluegrass.

“I wanted to get involved as far as helping those in need because God teaches us throughout scripture to give food and clothing to those who are in need. That whole idea of being the very hands and feet of Christ was prompting me to do something,” Barnard said.

Barnard said he decided to focus on doing events that benefit a group or organization already established but in need of more support instead of starting his own that may also end up needing support.
This concert is the first of those events.

“I’ve lived in Newton County for almost 14 years now and didn’t know there was such an active homeless shelter that was helping so many people,” Barnard said. “Part of it was because I wasn’t looking, but part of it was general (lack of) community awareness.”

He said he wanted to help organizations that are not just a charity but that are action oriented, he said. Garden of Gethsemane, which was created in 2001 by Pastor Clara Lett of Rainbow Covenant Ministries, he said, helps individuals who come through their doors develop an exit strategy by providing educational resources and rehab programs.
“We forget that homelessness is just as much of a problem out here as it is in the inner city,” Barnard said. “They certainly need help. They need to be loved.

“Music is a great way to get people together. Anybody can come in for good music and good food and hopefully learn something to spark their interest.”

“Brian has been a loyal customer and musician who has performed here before,” said Andrea Smith, owner of Square Perk. “It’s a fantastic cause, and I hope we get a lot of interest and support.”

Smith is donating a portion of the café’s sales from the entire day to the shelter, so even if someone only has time to drop in for a coffee on the way to work, she said, that money will help.

“We really need it,” said Pastor Lett.

The shelter, located at 7133 Turner Lake Circle in Covington, sees about 800 people come through the doors annually and more than 17,000 since 2001. Lett said she has seen up to 70-80 at one time, and the building can accommodate up to 100-110 people. People are served three meals a day, and Lett said she has seen any range of people come in, from single men and women to women with children to the mentally ill and people in their 70s-80s.

“It means a lot when people step up and have the heart to help and serve others,” Lett said. “There’s not a lot of low-income housing around. There are needs in our community, not always just in Atlanta or in different countries. We have them right here at our door.”

Lett’s shelter allows people to stay for a 30-day emergency period, after which they can apply for a transitional stay of six months to one year. Once a person leaves, he or she cannot return for 180 days.

However, not just anyone is allowed in, Lett said. Those simply roaming the streets or anyone with drug addictions cannot stay. Someone must be referred by another organization, such as the Salvation Army, Newton Medical or the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s how the shelter began.

The Sheriff’s Office used to call Lett in the middle of the night, she said, and she would get the person a room at the old Crest Hotel in Porterdale. The first person she helped was sleeping in an abandoned bus in Oxford. The second was a Covington woman who was confined to a wheelchair. Lett said she and her son brought the woman food.

“She was eating so hard I just began to cry,” Lett said. “It became embedded in my heart to do a homeless ministry.”
The shelter provides mandatory life skills classes to anyone who stays, a support group to help coach people, find work and give interview tips. Lett partners with the Department of Labor to help homeless veterans in the community. There is a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use, Lett said, but “if you have a problem, let us know and we can get you into a program.”

Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter has an annual budget of about $90,000, and utility bills can reach into $4,000-$5,000 in summer months. Lett said they are also in need of paper products and kitchen supplies (not, however, food).
“It’s not just about people who are into drugs and not taking care of their business,” Lett said. “They just find themselves in situations. There’s not privacy (at the shelter) or their family, and they’re surrounded by strangers. I’m telling you they don’t want to be there.”

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