Two friends wanting to do something last November to help homeless people in Tifton has grown into the Tifton Street Outreach serving meals to 25 people at 4 p.m. each Sunday in the Ride Share parking lot on U.S Highway 82 next to I-75.
When the weather started turning cold in November, Tiftonites Renee Cannady and Leah Childers wanted to give coats and other clothing to the homeless living behind Tifton’s Chick-fil-A. They passed out flyers to the homeless people they saw, inviting them to meet them at the Ride Share the next Sunday.
“That first week, nine people showed up,” Cannady told the Tifton Grapevine. “Now we prepare meals for 20 to 25 people.”
Jeff Duarte, a peer recovery coach for Oasis Recovery Community Organization, saw what the two women were doing and wanted to get involved.
“My wife and I used to drive to Thomasville every Sunday, where they have quite an outreach going on,” Duarte said.
He asked if he could come with coffee and pumpkin pie the next Sunday. “I brought up the idea of feeding people. Calls just started coming in. Now we have meals planned for two weeks in advance.
“We haven’t had to beg for any help. It’s been amazing, a blessing. It’s a bigger blessing for us than the peers we are helping,” he said.
When it was cold on Christmas weekend, donations paid for hotel rooms for 24 recipients to stay Friday, Saturday ,and Sunday nights. Anyone wishing to get on the meal schedule may email Duarte at firstname.lastname@example.org or donate via Venmo at the same email or Cash App at $tarministries1974. T.A.R. stands for Transformed And Renewed through Christ, from Romans 12:1,2.
“The goal is not to make them comfortable where they are, not to enable them (the homeless), but to just feed them in the meantime and offer them help if they want it,” Duarte said. He is able to provide them with a mobile shower on his trailer to help them be presentable for job interviews and housing appointments.
“I am working to network and gain as many contacts as possible for these people and give them another avenue” to take control of their lives, he said. “There are tons of resources I can point them to, such as housing and drug-abuse recovery.”
Pizza Hut in Adel donated 30 pan pizzas for Christmas dinner for the recipients, and Three Beards Barbecue in Tifton has provided smoked Boston butts. One anonymous donor purchased 30 steak dinners from Logan’s Steak House for New Year’s Day. Others have purchased gift cards from Chick-fil-A and Olive Garden for them.
The Peanut Butter & Jesus ministry, led by Tift County Commission Chairman Tony McBrayer, has been giving 25 brown paper-bag sack lunches so the recipients will have something else to eat the next day. Some of the recipients say the Sunday meal is the only food they eat all week.
“Tony McBrayer has been a very, very helpful mentor to me in my first endeavor like this,” Duarte said. “I am blessed to have his help.”
Numerous people donated hygiene items, and the group put together backpacks for each person, each with socks, a hat, a scarf, and hygiene items. They set up at the Ride Share beginning at 3 p.m., and that’s when people bring items.
“People donate tents, sleeping bags, blankets,” Cannady said. About the homeless, she said, “We’re forming relationships. The more they trust us, the more we can help them.” She said people are donating dog food, treats and toys for those that have dogs.
“If we see anybody, we stop and give them a flyer” about the Sunday meals and giveaways, she said.
Duarte’s goal is to start a midweek meal program. Also, he wants to get a house to be a “warming center” for homeless men and women to come and get in out of the weather and perhaps sleep for the night – “a place to fill out applications and help them excel in life,” he said.
“My wife experienced three to four years of homelessness in her teenage years,” Duarte said. “She knows what it’s like to feel alone and hopeless. People ask what they can do; they can give these people hope and love. These folks need some love.”