With Davidson County unemployment above 12 percent it seems every week another member of Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville tells pastor Michael Bowers that he or she has lost a job. The steady drip of bad news erodes hope like a leaky faucet rots floors.
To provide spiritual encouragement with practical help Rich Fork organized a “Hope Lives” event March 28 that saw 1,000 unemployed people or family members come to the church before noon for food boxes, clothes, encouragement and practical help from area colleges and social services agencies.
No registration was required because organizer Todd Shore said unemployed people are tired of standing in line and filling out forms. That awareness from his own unemployment is why Bowers asked Shore to organize the event. So many unemployed Rich Fork members and others volunteered that Shore said the event was a success before the doors opened “because the church family came together so well.”
When the doors opened, volunteers directed traffic in the parking lot, held umbrellas over strangers and carried them to the church on golf carts.
Church members earlier had provided 550 boxes of food, each packed with ingredients to feed a family of four for a week. They gymnasium was filled with clothes including items suitable for a job applicant to wear to an interview.
Downstairs people sat patiently for 90 minutes to get a free haircut, manicure or even a shoulder massage. This human touch often was the most valuable contribution to lives lived on the edge of despair.
Jennifer Shore, Todd’s wife, roamed the halls with a sympathetic ear and a quickly dwindling stack of $10 gift cards as coordinator of WOW. Her job was to find and encourage the people whose personal stories made the listener say, “Wow.”
• One woman hadn’t eaten meat in six weeks. A gift card got her some food at the grocery store.
• Another hadn’t afforded a haircut in 15 years.
• One woman whose birthday it was, said no one had told her happy birthday or given her a present in 10 years.
• One extended family of 16 was being evicted when their landlord sold the house. They needed everything.
• A woman who had been hospitalized and not expected to recover, came out of the hospital six weeks later to discover her son had sold everything she had, including her house.
• A grandmother raising four grandchildren by herself.
• An unemployed father of three not able to cope so his wife is keeping the family together.
Everyone found that hope lives through the grace of God and by Christians being the hands of God.
Social services like the YMCA, Employment Security Commission, Family Services of Davidson County, Habitat for Humanity, JobLink and High Point University and Davidson County Community College (DCCC) were set up and staffed to help.
Interpreters helped overcome language barriers.
“This is not going to be a onetime thing,” Shore said. He said other churches already were asking for his notes and graphics.
Emily Chilton, a church member and cosmetology student at DCCC, was among seven who had each given 15 haircuts by noon. She just wanted to do, “anything I can do to help. I love to see a smile on their faces. It’s more a blessing to us than to them.”
Chris Spanburg, who has her own salon, gave her Saturday to cutting hair for free “to help my community. It’s kind of the Christian thing to do, isn’t it?”
Nancy Snider held her son Matthew tightly for a haircut he did not enjoy. Her husband, a machinist, lost three jobs last year. In each case, he was the last one hired, so the first one let go.
“The Lord is good,” said a positive Snider, a member of New Hope Baptist Church in Salisbury. “That’s the only way we can make it, is through things like this (Hope Lives). He looks after our every need.”
Bowers said he was surprised by the variety of need presented by the crowd. He was proud of his 350 volunteers who were “off the charts” he said.
One of them, Liz Cranford, said, “Our church will never be the same after today.”
Bowers said he hopes his members “eyes will be open to what’s around them,” because of the event. “The recession has been positive in that it has shown us what we need to be doing, what the church was called to do,” he said. “This is it. It’s right here in front of them.”