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An Oasis of Love in a Season of Hurt

August 17, 2010

©2010 Robin Nelson

Rockmart, Georgia — It is humbling to watch as they line up outside the Helping Hands ministry in this town’s small business district. Men, women, some with their children, waiting to meet with Miss Betty and get registered for enough food to feed their families for a while.

Betty Cornwell and her husband Clynt launched Helping Hands nine years ago. “We’d been abundantly blessed in our lives,” explained Miss Betty, who helps her husband with a tool sharpening business nearby. “We wanted to help families struggling with too many bills, too many mouths to feed — and not enough work to go around. Somebody needed to do it, so we said, why not us?”

Helping Hands sells  donated clothing and household items for a fraction of what they might cost in retail store.  The funds from those items are used to purchase food from the Atlanta Food Bank for 17 cents a  pound, and supplemented by food donations from local grocers. All the food is freely given to any resident of Polk County who is having a tough time financially. The ’employees’ are all volunteers. The local churches help out as they can, but the recession has hit this county hard, and the hard times are getting harder. “There are months when we don’t know how we’re going to pay our rent or electric bill. But God always comes through,” Miss Betty said.

“It’s bad and  getting worse every month, it seems,” says Betty. “The poor and the homeless will always be among us, but now we’re seeing people who used to have jobs but now they don’t. And there are few prospects of work. People are scared of what’s ahead. But mostly they try to get by for today.” Betty and her volunteers open every day at noon, usually to a line of Rockmart citizens  waiting for the doors to be unlocked. They distribute bags of groceries three days a week to families on a once-per-month basis, with quantity determined by the number of family members.

“We’re seeing whole families moving in with relatives just to have a place to live, and not be forced to live in their cars.  It’s so hard for someone who used to be able to support his family and now he can’t. They are embarrassed and depressed. I tell them there are lots of others in the same situation, and we let them know how much they’re loved. They can still have hope and keep looking for work. These times won’t last forever. We’re all praying it won’t last much longer,” she said.

That this scene is replicated in thousands of towns across the country is sobering. Social services can only do so much, says Miss Betty. It is up to the ministries and charities in towns just like Rockmart to step up and help fill the need.  Miss Betty can’t spend too much time dwelling on statistics or the national picture. It can become overwhelming and numbing. She has her hands full, just taking care of those in her own back yard.

Betty Cornwell (right) checks with food pantry coordinator Linda Gibson on the day's needs

Betty Cornwell helps a young mother with a load of free groceries from the food pantry.

Helping Hands ministry volunteer Denise Peace hugs a returning visitor to the thrift shop

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Denese Peace permalink
    August 27, 2010 8:58 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to come by and do an artical on what we do. The need is growing more and more every day. This past week we had close to 40 families two different days.It is really sad , I only wish i could do more.Thank you again. Denese

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