During the 2015-16 school year, there were 126 children in Bryan County Schools who were identified as homeless. Because half of all homeless children are under the age of 5, it is safe to say that the total number of homeless children in our county may well be over 200. Family Promise has a plan to help these children, one family at a time. This issue is real and is often overlooked in a community that continues to prosper. Many local residents and business owners faced a new way of life due to the economic recession that made its way across the U.S. Many have bounced back and can reflect to a time more difficult; others have been less fortunate. As we see a community growing in population, recreation and attraction, there is also an opportunity and obligation to act on the issue of homelessness and food insecurities right here in Bryan County.
One local group has developed a passion and focus on outreach both locally and globally. In the spring of 2011, Ted Burnsed, missions director, and Dianne Drane, outreach coordinator/volunteer — along with other church members at First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill — developed the Eleos Food Bank and Clothes Closet.
"Coming out of the recession, we were having people come in every day," said Burnsed. "Scott Speer, our pastor, has an outreach heart, and this is just a part of it. Other churches were already doing things, we just began to fill in some gaps as this started."
Eleos, a Greek word, means the personification of mercy and compassion.
According to the church’s website: "Eleos Food Bank and Clothes Closet shows the love of Jesus Christ to the community and surrounding areas by providing free canned goods and other food items, clothing, medical equipment, and support to those who are in need. We strive to create a caring atmosphere in which every individual is treated with dignity, concern and love. It is our hope and prayer that those who receive food and clothing will be strengthened in body and soul."
The reality is, according to Burnsed, many are faced with hard times for various reasons. Situational, generational and cultural poverty all have immediate needs. There are families living in Bryan County that have simply fallen on hard times, forced to work part-time jobs that are not allowing them to meet the needs of their families.
"We want to help develop a sustainable outreach to meet the immediate needs of the community and hopefully transition people into be self-supportive," he said.
"We have good community support through Pay it Forward Foundation, United Way, Publix, Food Lion, Senior Center and the countless businesses that do food drives to contribute," said Drane.
Eleos also has a working partnership with Goodwill here in Bryan County. Due to the lack of space, the team at Eleos will often transfer items of overflow to Goodwill, which in return provides vouchers.
"If we don’t have something, we can send that person to Goodwill and they can get whatever size of clothes or items we don’t have with the voucher," Drane said. "It is a great partnership we have, we help them and they help us."
Burnsed said Eleos helps 75 to 80 families a month from both north and south Bryan County, northern Liberty County and occasionally Chatham County.
"We have had to put cutoffs at some time of the year due to donations," he added. "Some rural counties don’t have as many social services, so we are flexible here and try to help as much as we can."
The team at First Baptist Church and Eleos recognize most of their current volunteer base is from within the church congregation, but they are open to anyone who wants to help. For those wanting to learn more or volunteer visit the church website at richmondhill.org.
Burnsed and Drane know the efforts it takes and will take to continue to impact these significant areas of need within Bryan County. They said that Genesis 12, the Call of Abram, is the foundation for which all this work is done.
"It says blessing to you so you will bless other nations," according to Burnsed. "This applies to our everyday life. God has blessed us to live here in this community, He has given us the opportunity to meet the needs of others. All of this and expecting nothing in return. Hopefully, we give them a start to a better life."
"It feels good doing this, because He has called us to do it."