ROCKINGHAM — Homeless advocates are pitching tents, sorting clothes and recruiting volunteers this week as they prepare to open the Place of Grace tent city on Saturday.
The community for homeless men and women is located between the city limits of Rockingham and Hamlet on property owned by New Life Church. Organizers have planned their first cookout and yard sale fundraiser from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the church on Airport Road.
Mark Joplin of Transitional Services of Richmond County and the Rev. Gary Richardson of New Life Church have been working to prepare the site to receive its first residents by accepting donations of items, time and talent from people all over Richmond County.
“We have received many donations,” Joplin said. “We have clothes that were donated, some with the tags still on them, thanks to Rocking Trends. There are already two more tents set up on site and we’ve cleared more land to make room for more. What we need most is for people to come out and get involved. If you have something, anything at all that you want to get rid of, it would make a nice donation. Your time is valuable as well.”
Richardson and Joplin got together and planned the effort after Richardson reached out to several homeless advocates and agencies. Richardson envisioned the land being used to assist the homeless, but did not have a plan to make that vision a reality.
“The goal of every church is to help people,” Richardson said. “We don’t have a lot of resources, but we do have land. We have approximately 25 acres here. I had a special service and invited several groups with an interest in helping the homeless. I offered them use of this land.”
Joplin has secured Jordon Hunt as the tent city’s on site manager. Hunt will reside in a tent amid the residents to help see to their needs.
Kay Webb, 57, is looking forward to feeding people who come to Saturday’s grand opening even though she cannot be there in person.
“I just love to feed people,” Webb said. “I’ve always wanted to help feed people that are hungry. Lots of times when I say the blessing, I ask God to send me someone who is hungry so I can feed them. It’s my calling that the Lord has given me.”
Webb said there will be a prize for the best dish, and she’s excited about two potential entries she will be sending along. Webb, who is disabled, said Joplin will be coming to pick up her cake and cookies Saturday morning.
“I’m going to cook a hummingbird cake,” Webb said. “And I’d also like to cook some peanut butter cookies.”
Richardson and Joplin want people to understand what The Place of Grace is doing to help homeless people get back on their feet and back into society.
“Our vision is to allow a safe haven for people to change,” Joplin said. “Once they come in, and they come in on their own or are referred by other shelters, they’ll go through an intake process to assess their needs, and with Pastor Gary’s permission, they can have the opportunity to transition to a better way of life. You could say that this is my goal and his vision.”
Before, The Place of Grace was only a plan. Now, thanks to many community volunteers and donations, it is a reality.
“This is going to be a place of change,” Joplin said. “For those who want a better way, this is where it starts. For those who want to help, this is that place, too. We hope people will come out and see what we are doing here. We hope they feel free to help in any way they can or will. We’re not just talking about it anymore. This isn’t something that’s about to happen. It’s already happening.”
For more information, visit Transitional Services of Richmond County on Facebook or call 910-730-4694.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @melonieflomer.