A hand up
Convoy of Hope helps families in need
By John W. Kennedy
The northern Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Ga., is one of the
wealthiest cities in America, noted for its exquisite antebellum plantation
homes. The median household income in the commuter hub of 87,807 is $84,595.
Nearly 63 percent of the residents have a college degree.
But off the beaten path of modern thoroughfares, in historic
“old” Roswell, there are plenty of families struggling to make ends meet.
The plight of a 32-year-old laid-off construction worker
named Oscar illustrates a 2009 reality: The ranks of the “new” poor are growing
quickly. These are people gainfully employed only a few months ago who now,
unable to find work, are sometimes at risk of hunger.
“Work just dried up,” Oscar says. “It’s tough for me. It’s
tough for everybody.”
Yet Oscar, who attends a Baptist church, found some cause
for optimism on a beautiful day in April when he attended a Convoy of Hope
citywide outreach in Roswell, one of more than 40 such events the nonprofit
ministry is holding across the nation this year. More than 60 area churches and
organizations joined together to host this event in Georgia.
The ministry endeavor presented a host of free services,
from a play zone for kids to immunizations for adults. Convoy’s day in Roswell
provided Oscar with the opportunity to connect with area employers looking to
hire workers. Oscar, who emigrated from Cuba nine years ago, filled out job
applications with various companies.
The city of Roswell co-sponsored the event and allowed the
festivities to take place on the picturesque five-acre grounds of City Hall. An
impressive two-story brick New England-style architecture complex overshadows
magnolia trees along grassy strips next to the parking lot.
Vonda Malbrough, development director of Fulton County
Community Charities, welcomed Convoy’s presence.
“The demand for food has gone up in this economic downturn,”
Malbrough says. “Donors are now coming in as clients.”
Local Convoy coordinator Tom Schuler also realizes how times
“Beneath the radar of affluence is a compelling need: families
that don’t get a lot of attention,” says Schuler, ministry development pastor
at Fellowship Bible Church. “This is a wake-up call to our community leaders
that we really have this kind of demographic.”
About 18 percent of families in the city earn less than
$30,000 a year.
“Everyone feels the pains of an economic downturn,” says
City Councilman Rich Dippolito, who served on the planning committee. “But I
love the message of hope demonstrated here, to show people that the community
Like many cities, the service economy of Roswell until
recently had been supplied by the growing ranks of recent immigrants —
the primarily Hispanic influx of workers who roof houses, landscape properties
and wash restaurant dishes. But as residents stop buying new homes, start
mowing their own grass and eat out less often, many of those jobs have
A couple named Jossué and Eduuiges, originally from Mexico,
are both employed, but generating income has become more difficult. Jossué is a
street vendor selling Mexican foods such as tamales and burritos. He is among
the 2,700 guests who receive help at the Convoy.
“I need more customers,” says guest Jossué, who had just
picked up some free medicine and scheduled a follow-up appointment at a health
Eduuiges cleans houses, but there are fewer opportunities
these days. The couple are grateful for the sacks of groceries they receive
from Convoy to feed them and their 11-year-old son, Josue.
Victor came to the Convoy because he has had a difficult
time finding construction or plumbing jobs. Wife Robin says Convoy of Hope is a
blessing for the Hispanic community, because many families have lost medical
and food services.
Some of those helped at the outreach have been in poverty
much longer. Kerry came for free medical services, groceries and a chicken
“I used to do outreach ministry myself,” Kerry says. “Now I
need some help.”
Kerry, 43, explains how he lost his job when he took time to
care for his ailing mother. But his mother died of cancer, and Kerry, who now
carries his worldly possession in his backpack, lost his house.
A priority is to restore his health. He says his energy is
low, he’s 35 pounds underweight, he tires easily and he has trouble standing.
“It’s a long process to turn things around,” Kerry says.
“I’m trying to get some job skills. I’ve learned how to use a computer.”
The tent providing free portraits proved to be a popular
spot. Tina, 26, had her picture taken holding 1-year-old son Titus. Tina, who
is completing a faith-based substance abuse program at a local shelter for poor
and homeless women, says she enjoys the fellowship of mingling with other
Christians at the day’s events.
“I’m hoping to learn a new way of life with God,” says Tina,
mentioning that she had a spiritual awakening during the winter. “I want to
reunite with my other four kids and live a life free of drugs and alcohol.”
A steady stream of guests is taking up an offer of free
haircuts, where 40 volunteers are clipping away. By the end of the afternoon,
550 guests have received free haircuts.
Hope Jones, a student in a local cosmetology school,
recently moved to the area after being laid off as a Cleveland-based flight
attendant. When she couldn’t find a job, an area church and nonprofit ministry
helped her make ends meet.
“I didn’t know anybody, but they allowed me to get work,”
says Jones, 42. “I’m volunteering today because it’s time to do something for
the community that’s done so much for me.”
Ben Taylor, 46, also has a sense of payback as he grills
4,000 hot dogs served up at lunch. Although Taylor now is a project manager at
a marketing company, the Roswell Assembly of God attendee says he appreciates
the Convoy giveaways because he once went through months of unemployment
Schuler believes the Convoy outreach will serve as a
catalyst for Christians to take a more active role in caring for the hurting in
their midst. A total of 1,508 volunteers participated in this outreach.
“This is more than a one-time event,” Schuler says. “We’re
getting the hands and feet of the people of God out into the streets. We want
to create a sustaining community presence, connecting the unchurched to
One example is Anna Lee, among the 120 volunteers in the
prayer area. Barbara, one of the guests she prayed with, had two children in
tow. The woman explained about the drug rehabilitation program in which she’s
enrolled and asked Lee if she would be her sponsor.
“Of course I said yes,” recalls Lee, who attends Fellowship
Bible Church. “We’re going to have an ongoing relationship. I’ll be taking her
She found the experience of praying for strangers less
intimidating than she anticipated.
“Now I’m going to be looking for people to help,” Lee says.
“The Lord is teaching me a new thing.”
Convoy prayer coordinator Hugh Duncan says area churches
contact guests who express a spiritual interest the following week.
“The connection to a local church is important so they can
receive ongoing guidance and help,” Duncan says.
Volunteers also gave away 1,500 backpacks of school supplies
such as paper, pencils, rulers and notebooks to children in 2½ hours. As
a result of the Convoy cooperation, six local churches have agreed to sponsor
an unprecedented back-to-school outreach for students.
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal
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