Blessings for those in need

Dec. 21, 2013 @ 01:58 PM

Sometimes a “thank-you” makes a world of difference, sometimes saying those words means a world of difference has been made.

To those who depend on meals and other help from Area Christians Together in Service on Chestnut Street, the words say they have a place and a provision — core strengths for living — because of the generosity of others.

Some are homeless, the ones finding digs for sleeping in abandoned buildings or worse. Some are simply poor and unable to find work.

They are thankful for a place to come and eat at lunchtime, most weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon. They are thankful for being able to pick up a new hat or coat.

ACTS also provides food items to supplement nutritional needs through weekends, and meals for the elderly who can’t get to the Chestnut Street soup kitchen location.

The staff and volunteers have been at it for years, but the thanks are always as new as the daily need.

“Every day, help is here,” Arnold Alston said. “They do things for people here that they don’t have to do. They help people every day. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be anything.”

Alston has been primarily homeless for more than 15 years, staying sometimes with family in the area. After being homeless in 1999, he found a place with a cousin for a couple of years. Since 2002, he has mainly been on the streets.

“I ran out of people to stay with,” Alston said. “I’ve been living on the streets for about 12 years. I’ve slept in three different abandoned houses off of Flint Hill. Last year, I found a house on Rockspring Street, and I stayed there all winter.”

He has been staying at the men’s shelter most nights recently, and has been able to stay with his mother sometimes.

“I stay sometimes with her, on Flint Street,” Alston said.

Picking up a meal at ACTS each day they’re open is a staple for Alston. ACTS also provides pop-open canned meat and other food for weekends and other occasions.

Also helped by homeless outreach was Gwendale Jones, who now has a place with her husband.

“I was homeless for a time, but I found a house,” Jones said. “We walk up here every day. I have been coming here for a long time. They’re going to help us with Christmas gifts for our grandchildren. Six are coming, three girls and three boys. I thank them for that. It really is a blessing.”

Her husband, Jerry Jones, said he could look forward to the troop getting there for Christmas week. “Let them come on,” he said.

ACTS provided gifts for 275 families last year, and the staff and volunteers have been using every spare moment to wrap gifts for this Christmas, with many prepared for a Tuesday gift-giving event at the soup kitchen.

“I appreciate that,” Jerry Jones said.

“I’ll come up here and get my gift,” Alston said. “At Christmastime they look after everybody. They gave me jackets, sweaters, plenty of socks. They gave me two or three coats in the past couple of years, plus hats and gloves.”

Another helped at ACTS is Mary Blue, who said ACTS is near the top of her list of things to be thankful for at Christmas, right along with being able to stay with a cousin for shelter.

“I think it is a wonderful thing that they are doing in the community,” Blue said. “Every day they feed me. Sometimes we have no place to go or eat. I appreciate everything they do.”

Twanna Jones, the executive director for ACTS, said that on behalf of all who are served she hoped that a loud message of thanks would resonate out to her volunteers and donor supporters.

“It is hard to explain,” she said. “My heart is overwhelmed. I wish I could get a card out to every one of them. We are grateful for them. We have a lot of support from churches and businesses. That’s pretty much what keeps everything going.”

There is a core group of about 20 volunteers who are a daily bulwark for getting things done, plus a cadre of more than 60 volunteers who fit special projects into their plans, often at holiday times.

Twanna Jones said ACTS was able to provide 429 Thanksgiving meals this year, a new record. That took just about every hand on deck, 65 volunteers, putting in a very full day.

“We were exhausted, I couldn’t even walk the next day,” Twanna Jones said. “We were able to bless a lot of people. I’m always surprised how a meal can open a heart, and it helps people see how their lives can change.”

The aim goes beyond feeding people for one day, beyond the daily bread. According to Twanna Jones, the heartfelt support to feed, clothe, shelter and restore lives includes a gospel message: Jesus Christ, the gift of Christmas, is a gift for the homeless and less fortunate in Vance County.

It is an eternal impact worthy of a quote from scripture, in the second chapter Luke, verses 11 and 12, that she provided:

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”

To Twanna Jones, it is a message that is still being brought. It is a “thank you” that keeps making all the difference that can possibly be made in the world despite its darkness and difficulties.

“We do that through making ACTS feel like home to everyone,” she said.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.