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Volunteers clean cemetery; clothing, food donated

Volunteers were out in force Monday, honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by trying to improve their community.

Around 100 volunteers turned out to clean up an abandoned cemetery on Ridge Road, while dozens of others helped give out food, clothing and toiletries to those in need at Solid Rock Baptist Church.

Fred Johnson, who organized the cemetery effort, said the group cleaned up about 80 percent of the cemetery, which he had describe as "deplorable" last week. Volunteers cut down hundreds of trees and filled in sunken graves with 18 tons of dirt. Johnson said the cemetery looks much better, but there’s still work to be done there and at other cemeteries around the county.

"These cemeteries are abandoned, and it doesn’t look like anyone cares anything about them. They put people out there and forget about it," Johnson said. "It’s important (to clean them up), and we’re not going to stop now if I have anything to do with it."

Former county commissioner Monty Laster has documented around 270 cemeteries in Newton County, and as the last surviving of the county’s cemetery committee, he’d be happy for the help.

Laster and Johnson were joined in the cleanup by several area residents and churches, students from Oxford and Georgia Perimeter colleges and several local elected officials, including county Commissioner Lanier Sims, county Chairman Keith Ellis, school board member Eddie Johnson and Sheriff Ezell Brown, who personally paid for lunch for the group.

Meanwhile, local nonprofit Hands on Newton continued its annual tradition of hosting volunteer projects by gathering and distributing food, winter clothing and toiletries. The group collected around 100 pounds of food and provided clothes to about 20 to 30 residents.

Anything that wasn’t given away was given to The Salvation Army or the Solid Rock Clothing Closet and the Willing Helpers Food Pantry, also at Solid Rock Baptist.

In addition, local students cut up magazines to create lap-sit books – very basic picture books that help children develop vocabulary before they begin attending school – that will be used to go in "little free libraries" that Hands on Newton is hoping to place around the county.

Hands on Newton Director Mollie Melvin said she’s looking for volunteers to man the libraries. Call Melvin at 770-330-7405 or email to volunteer or for more info.

Finally, several locals won some prestigious local awards. The Rev. Ronnie Brannen, pastor of Prospect United Methodist Church, won the "I Have a Dream" Award, local historian Emogene Williams won the Trailblazer Award and local student Ralph Brown won the Young Dreamer Award. The News will have more on these winners in a later edition.