Friday's heroes:Good neighbors indeed

Sorting fresh produce at the shelter for qualifying families.

We visited a galaxy far far away... Upon exploration we found homes haunted by poverty. We found a woman with one vegetable left in her pantry, her resources were exhausted. We found families that could not afford adequate shoes for their children. Those children went to school in flip flops every day even on exceptionally cold days. Children were sent to school ill. It was not neglect or a lack of parental care it was a strategic move. At least there the school nurse could provide some needed health care.

Many homes had a car in the driveway during the day, the parents were home, their jobs lost, evaporated. Gone. Plants and mines closed and closing, everywhere we went folk were talking about it. The casual meeting of a stranger in a parking lot led to worried discussions about the plant down the road closing laying off 850 and next week another plant would close laying off 250. There was no hope of being re hired, not there, not anywhere close.

We saw how homes on the same street handled the same degree of poverty differently. Some were untidy, some were worse, others were pristine, the yards immaculate, the homes healthy environments, sweet smelling, others not so much, all were struggling under the burden of being the "new poor"or just plain poor.

We saw teams coming from churches in nearby states, from Georgia, from South Carolina, from Tennessee. One team was a team of seniors. Other teams were comprised of young mothers, men and women of all ages, two children, all there to help. They had paid their own way. Some had to pay their costs in installments. They paid for the own accommodation and they bought their own food. They were on a mission.

One team completely transformed the outside of a shelter by landscaping the yard and gardens. They felt it important for the residents to have an attractive entrance and surrounds.  They found bathrooms that had become difficult-to-navigate storage areas. They left them repainted, cleaned out, organized and functional. They did the same to kitchens.  They sorted clothes, books, children’s items. At their own cost they brought in 3 semi trailer loads of clothing, shoes and house hold items and distributed it all free of charge to 750 qualifying families through a local shelter. Have you any idea how labor intensive it is to unload and stack 3 semi trailer loads of such items? Well the teams did and they all pitched in to help.

Others provided and cooked food for the residents at shelters. One of the children in the shelter had no pajamas to wear to school the following day for pajama day. The child was distraught. Can you imagine one child going in day wear while every other child in school wore in night wear? Situations like that can leave long scars. One member of one of the teams, a mother herself, bought the child a most beautiful pair of pajamas. The child boarded the bus the following morning dressed like all the other kids, in pajamas. Her smile was priceless. 

Teams sorted and packed donated food from the area, fresh produce.  Mis-shapen, unable to be sold at retail but nutritious and welcome. The teams assisted local ministries and charities, cleaning, moving furniture, relocating, and cleaning again, no job was 'beneath them', all tasks were tackled with good humor.

The teams gathered donations in their home towns, they spent it in the community buying food. They then stacked it on the shelves of local distribution pantries. They cut hair (free of charge), they distributed food parcels (now that is after donating the stuff, packing it, loading it onto the trailers, someone then drove the boxes there, removing it from the trailer, transporting it to the homes and carrying it up to the front door). They entertained the residents in aged care homes by singing hymns. Often the elderly forget many things but they recall the hymns that have comforted them through the decades. They gave them warm handmade quilts (made by the ladies at churches far away who donated all of the supplies and time required to make them) for the winter. They performed for over 2,000 school children. It was a happy cheery program encouraging the children to be all they could be. The stars of the show were two amazing children and one loving Golden Retriever.

And the teams left, with few in the towns they touched remembering their names.  This is happening all over the states every week. These generous unnamed heroes deserve recognition. I recognize and salute them today.  For tomorrow they may be the ones needing the team from a nearby state.  And if they are I am sure one will be there for them. That is how the unsung heart of America operates even in the face of today’s unprecedented widespread, creeping and terrifying poverty.

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