The Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter aims to be Covington’s safety net, the place that prevents those who have lost everything from falling through society’s cracks.
"I’m trying to sound the trumpet, to alert people to the homeless problem. We don’t want chronic homelessness here; we don’t want to become another Atlanta with its increased crime. We need to put our hands on it now," said Rev. Clara Lett, the shelter’s director.
Employees from Lendmark Financial Services, a subsidiary of BB&T, believe so strongly in Lett’s efforts they’ve pledged to volunteer 172 hours of their time from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30 to help prepare and serve meals at the shelter, purchase food, clothing and other items for residents and do minor miscellaneous repairs at the shelter.
Kerry Ward, a vice president for BB&T, said the company was able to donate more than $6,000 to the shelter this year, following up on last year’s efforts when the company donated around $10,000 worth of supplies, Lett said.
"The supplies they buy can last us the whole year," Lett said. "We couldn’t operate without Lendmark’s support."
Thursday afternoon Ward and three other employees gave away new shoes, underwear and school uniforms to shelter residents.
"We just want to help out those folks that need a helping hand and get them back on their feet," said Patsy Jones, an assistant vice president. "Seeing people’s reactions, they’re so grateful. Everyone wanted to give us a hug; it was so great to see."
Cathy "Peaches" Nelms said the new shoes and clothing were a blessing to her and her two children, Destin, age 7, and Arizona, age 6.
"People take things for granted until they find they can’t do them for themselves," Nelms said. "To buy new things for us, it means a lot."
The Lendmark employees made sure that everyone had the right shoe and clothing sizes, and went back to the store to buy new items for anyone who had been left off the list initially.
Lett said in addition to the clothing, Lendmark bought a variety of meat products from local Holifield Farms and all the paper products and cleaning supplies the shelter needs to operate on a daily basis.
Last year the company bought the shelter a floor buffer and a meat slicer in addition to the other food, paper, office and clothing products.
Ward said he heard about the shelter’s need because of a story in The News, dealing with the shelter’s large utility bills.
"We wanted to work with Garden of Gethsemane because of the great work they do in Newton County," Ward said in a statement. "We’re proud to team up with them and help in any way we can."
The Lendmark/BB&T volunteers are participating in the company’s second annual Lighthouse Project. BB&T locations throughout the county choose a non-profit agency to assist during August or September to make a positive impact on the lives of people in need.
Last year, BB&T employees donated nearly 53,000 hours to help improve the lives of 1.6 million people in 25 states, according to a company press release. For more information about the Lighthouse Project, go to www.bbt.com/bbt/lighthouseproject.
The homeless shelter originally opened in Porterdale in 1996 and has helped 6,822 people from Butts, Jasper, Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties, and has a current population of 71.