The residents of Newton County came to the rescue of the local homeless shelter Friday, donating a combined $14,800 to keep the lights on and the water running.
The Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter was on the verge of having its utilities cut off because it had no money to pay its latest Covington utility bill, which was $5,320 for the shelter's three buildings off Turner Lake Circle in Covington.
Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston asked city officials to delay cutting off the utilities and personally pleaded for residents to donate to the shelter.
The generous outpouring will not only take care of the past due bill, but will also pay for the next bill, which is coming next week. The donations give time for Johnston and others to re-evaluate the operations of the shelter and find a way to put it on sound financial footing for the future. He said the process would be "very open and transparent."
Johnston set up a bank account Thursday for the shelter at Newton Federal bank, and there was $8,700 in the account as of approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday. In addition, two members of the shelter's board of directors donated a combined $6,000 to the shelter directly, and the shelter's executive director the Rev. Clara Lett said another person donated $100.
"Personally, I'm just ecstatic," Johnston said Friday afternoon. "But not really surprised. It's what I've said about Covington since my wife and me moved here. I know a bunch of great people in Covington who are willing to help out and step up. Obviously, they've done it again.
"I want to offer a huge thank you to the residents for responding like you did. I think it says a ton for the city and county."
People can still donate to the shelter by giving to the "Covington Homeless Shelter" fund at any Newton Federal branch.
Lett said the shelter currently had 67 residents, including around 20 children.
"There again (the community) came to the rescue of the shelter. We are very grateful," Lett said Friday. "It's not easy as people think to run a shelter when you have to depend on funds through grants and the community. Everybody is sort of going through that and hurting now from the economy. Even the churches. Everybody is feeling the pinch. It's not that we have neglected our responsibilities."
The shelter is far from catching up on its debts, as it still owes its landlord, the Covington Housing Authority, $65,735.92 for back rent and utility payments made on the shelter's behalf.
October is Homelessness Awareness Month, and Lett said the shelter has activities planned for every Friday and Saturday this month in an effort to raise more funds.
Next weekend, she said the shelter will have a corn maze, along with horse rides, a hay ride, BBQ and other food.