OFH Clothing for a Cause

food for the homeless & hope for the hopeless

They can’t be evicted from education

There are over one million homeless children nationally. Locally, here in our Cobb schools they number over 1600. Eviction-Notice

Being in school is important to these children. The thing that’s unique about education, particularly for homeless children, is that it’s the one opportunity to gain something that no one can ever take away from them. They can’t be evicted from their education. In addition, school is one of the few points of stability and help for these young people which can provide continuity, meals, basic health care, as well as the education they need for a chance at a better future.

A homeless child might move three or four times in a year, and studies show that every time he changes schools he falls behind by about six months. Many other studies suggest that children who can generally depend on a certain level of predictability in their lives perform much better in school than their counterparts, and go on to hold down higher-paying jobs.

Children who live in poverty often have higher-than-normal levels of stress hormones, which can actually warp the architecture of the brain in ways that make these children more vulnerable to anxiety and depression and more prone to poor decision-making, and thus more likely to remain poor and to raise kids who will themselves remain poor. Bringing up a child in the chaotic conditions of poverty must be something like building a skyscraper on quicksand. Instability begets instability begets instability.

Providing for these kids is not just work for our ministry to do – it’s about the work of this entire community. We, as a community need to fully understand what homelessness does to a child and how it can affect them for life. Clothing and food can no longer just be something that we want to do on a volunteer basis for the community. Now it’s a mandatory thing that we as a community must do because of the need that we can see in these families and in these kids.

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Ministry Mastery

OFH Clothing for a Cause has been officially approved for Ministry Mastery Certification and can proudly display the seal. Linda Oviatt, Executive  Director completed a course of study in the Mastery Certification program that takes  leaders through in-depth coaching in the five areas of what is called the ‘Best Practices’. The course of study helps to build capacity among ministry leaders for the good of the ministry and the Glory of God in order to fulfill the unique vision God has given them to serve the least and the lost. These are men and women whom God has called– Christians who are leaders in their local church, who take Holy Spirit led risks, who are passionate and self initiators. ImageLinda is the Executive Director and Founder of {OFH} Our Fathers Hands, a ministry serving homeless children in Cobb schools. OFH has a funky resale shop in West Cobb, offering off-beat original clothing and uses the revenue to help cover operating costs for the organizations mission: To unite and enhance existing community outreach efforts, programs and resources in meeting the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of Cobb County’s indigent and homeless population. Linda has a diverse and award-winning background in marketing, sales and networking spanning 30 years. She combines her for –profit experience with her passion for the homeless in making {OFH} Clothing for a Cause a successful and sustainable nonprofit 501c3 organization. Linda is an active member of several metro-Atlanta associations and was named ‘West Cobb Citizen of the Year’ by the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce in 2010.

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Helping Hand for Homeless Cobb Kids

Our Father’s Hands provides quality clothing to families in need and has expanded assistance from just a few schools to all in the county’s school district.

Children living in shelters, abandoned buildings, cars in parking lots, extended-stay motels and safe houses after their mothers got out of abusive relationships—they’re the ones that drive Linda Lipp to continue on in the face of exhaustion and hardship. “These children do not have a refrigerator to put their artwork on when they come home from school,” the West Cobb woman said. “Often, these children only have what they can fit in a suitcase or a backpack.”

At the store, families are given clothes that were donated or, in the case of underwear or socks, are brand new. Cobb school children are allocated free clothes worth $25 for each school year, and if there aren’t shoes available that fit, they’re also given a $20 shoe gift card.

All donated clothes must meet a standard, which includes no stains or rips. But no items are thrown away; they’re instead given to other area ministries and shelters, and have even made it as far as Mexico. Additionally, all clothing is on racks instead of in boxes or paper bags. “That was a big thing we wanted to make sure of: that all our families had the same dignity in getting clothing as you and I do,” Lipp said. “These children get to come to the store and ‘shop’ for their own stuff and try it on.”

Our Father’s Hands has grown from only being able to help a few nearby schools last year to all Cobb elementary, middle and high schools this year. During that time, the homeless children in the 106,000-student school district have increased to 1,600 from 1,288, Lipp said. The average homeless child changes locations three times a year and oftentimes has items stolen, Lipp said. But by providing fresh clothes, Our Father’s Hands allows them to stay “under the radar” so other students aren’t aware of their situation, she added. “The emotional scars you can’t see,” she said, “but they can look like everybody else.”

Speaking about Our Father’s Hands, Paulette Herbert, social worker for Cobb schools noted how the school district can get items “very quick.” “If we need something, we can get it from them immediately,” said Herbert, a supervisor for the district’s social work department, which has 31 total social workers.

Another of those social workers, Antoinette Frazier, also described the help the organization provides: “Many of our families are experiencing extremely challenging situations. Whether it’s loss of housing, unemployment or under employment, they struggle day to day to meet the most basic needs of their children. I think that it is refreshing for these families to have the opportunity to walk into a clothing store and shop for quality clothing for their children.” Providing stability for a family is the end goal, Herbert said, but pointing back to organizations like Our Father’s Hands, essentials like clothing must be met first.

Helping the district with the basic need is “exhausting and fulfilling at the same time,” Lipp said. “I just feel like I am being true and faithful and doing what God has called me to do,” she said. “Yeah, I get tired and there’s a lot of need out there, but once you’ve helped one of those kids and you’ve seen that smile, it makes it all worthwhile.”

To donate to Our Father’s Hands, you can drop off clothing at the store at 2120 New Macland Road or give money online to buy shoes at http://www.ourfathershands.com

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Broken Dolls S…

Broken Dolls

She stood with the other children outside of Walmart. At first glance nothing about her would make her stand out above the rest.  Katie was in the group of children we would be shopping with this day for new school clothes and backpacks. Quietly she stood waiting to see who she would be paired up with. A small smile on her face and eyes that told of sorrow.  We would soon find out that she lost her mom and dad within 30 days of each other to drug overdoses. She was not only homeless but recently orphaned.

Seven children had people care about them. They took time out on their Saturday morning to spend a couple of hours loving on small souls with crushed hearts, numb, wondering “Where is God?  Why has this happened and why won’t God make it stop?” 

There are over 1600 of these children in Cobb County schools. We can’t care for all of them but we can minister and help one or several. One small action can have a wide impact. Gently guiding Katie through the shopping experience was amazing. She opened up, wanted to be hugged and in turn started talking to another young lady her age. Two homeless children without hope found each other and bonded. They would be going to the same school. They started to act like normal teenage girls. For a short time the pain in their worlds stopped. For a short time they were loved on by others and given hope.

The same free will to love and protect is the same free will that has the ability for the gut wrenching self-centered nature to defile and choke, betraying innocence and destroying hope.  True love is patient, kind and merciful. I want to be able to have the child I encounter to look back one day and remember my act of kindness, words of wisdom and my love for them. Even just for an hour. I want to impact the life of one so that they may in turn impact the life of another resulting in many. Many little souls blossoming in a world that is searching for a meaning to life.

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Could You Choose Between Food or Shelter?

Homelessness results from a complex set of circumstances that require people to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs. Homeless shelters aren’t plentiful enough, safe enough, or free from downsides. Here are just a few of them.

Rigid shelter schedules &rules. Many homeless do have jobs which don’t allow them to get in or out of the shelter by curfew

Danger of rape or assault. Shelters are hunting grounds for human predators. Craftier ones get jobs at shelters while others just watch for individuals departing the shelters. Predators in search of “excitement” will track a lone person leaving a shelter so they can beat him or harass him for fun.
Criminals know police seldom take complaints from homeless people seriously.

Fear of contracting disease and or parasites. In a shelter there is almost endless coughing. Many with chronic coughs have chronic illnesses, transmissible diseases. Also if you sleep in a different bed nightly that other homeless people have slept in, eventually you are bound to get head lice, pubic lice or scabies.

If you are homeless, you are guilty even if you are innocent. People automatically assume that if you are thin you abuse crack or alcohol. Even though shelters have signs or policies about being a drug free zone, they are often more likely to be drug hot spots.

Theft – The homeless carry everything they own on their back or rolling cart. Most homeless are not thieves but there are plenty that are. To simply protect what they have they don’t use the shelters.

Give up faithful assistance or companionship – Dogs except for seeing eye and hearing assistance ones are not allowed in shelters. Dogs that are simply companions and even those that provide assistance for mental conditions such as anxiety or agoraphobia, and other service dogs are denied entry as well.

Giving up family for shelter. Shelters separate families. Women can bring pre-teen children into shelters but teenage male children (as young as 13) may be required to go to a men’s shelter which they may not even get into. Can you imagine a mother leaving her young teenage son to sleep alone on the street without her protection? Most don’t so the whole family sleeps in their car or outside.
Men and women cannot be in the same homeless shelter so husbands and wives are separated. These people are often elderly or disabled and depend on each other for safety and care. Children cannot stay in men’s homeless shelters. This leaves homeless single fathers in a very difficult spot. This seems not only heartbreaking but criminal.

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If I Had Shoes I Could Work

Every week we feed the homeless. They start lining up an hour or so before we arrive. They know we are coming. We have never failed them for over a year now regardless of weather or holidays. Hunger never takes a holiday.
As part of this process we have several of us that mingle and talk with them. We find out what is happening and what needs they have. We give them support in finding jobs, housing, clothing and even help to reunite them with family out of town with bus tickets. We laugh and cry with them. And then there is the list.
Melanie sits with a spiral notebook and takes requests. Some are simply requests for prayer about various situations like finding a job or shelter from the street, forgiveness and relief from addictions. The pages are dated and then referred back to so we can check on the progress.
My heart is heavy as I read each request this week. Ten men need size 12 and 13 work boots and socks. Without the proper foot wear they are denied day labor jobs or full and part time construction work. They need t-shirts & jeans and hygiene kits to clean up for the job and a tote bag to carry belongings in. I have a young mother needing clothing for herself and her 9 month old baby. We helped her celebrate Isaiah’s birth this past winter.
As I sit here at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee I feel guilty and blessed at the same time. I am thankful to God for His blessing of comfort and provision. While my heart may be burdened by the needs and know I am called to action. My hands and feet are to be His hands and feet in caring for those less fortunate.
I can’t help everyone but I can help a few. Everyone can help just one. Today I am going to make sure that John, Timothy and Clarence have shoes to work. While I am at it I think I will take care of that baby too.

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The Disaster Within the Disaster

After a disaster, junk donations become a challenge

 

A recent article in the Associated Press addressed the issue of donations coming in for victims of the recent tornados. Most people want to help anyway they can. Human suffering gets us every time and our very souls cry out to help. But, what we want to give and what is needed doesn’t always line up.

According to the AP article, agencies are still encouraging people to send items like cleaning supplies or cash donations that can be used to cover operating expenses or handed out to victims. But with storage space scarce  they can’t handle any more used toys or cast-off clothing.

“That becomes the disaster within the disaster,” said Salvation Army spokesman Mark Jones. “When people make those mass donations … it causes the community to be overrun with them and have to deal with that in addition to the storm damage.”  They have warehouses full of donations, but too many of those items are broken toys, dirty stuffed animals and used underwear that has to be thrown in the trash.

What is really needed? New underwear, nonperishable foods, pet food and sports drinks.  Toiletry items and paper goods. Cleaning supplies & laundry detergent. No clothing. Clothing is best taken to those that know how to handle it. They get it to the victims as the requests come in.

OFH Clothing for a Cause in Powder Springs works well with the disaster trained staff at McEachern UMC. They take in the clothing, sort it and are ready for the requests. Yes, some items may end up on the sale floor but that item is sold and then the money goes to helping all kinds of people finding themselves homeless.

“People can be very giving and we love that” says Linda Lipp Executive Director. They need to trust us to handle getting clothing to people in need. We process over $400,000 worth of clothing each year. Only about 20% actually stays in the store. The rest goes out to ministries and relief efforts.

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You want this shirt?

the shirt off (one’s) back Slang

The maximum one is able to give or lose. According to Scholastic’s Dictionary of Idioms, “The origin is from the 1770′s, and is almost self-explanatory.  If you saw a needy person in the street who was cold because he had no shirt, and you actually took your shirt off and gave it to him, it would be an act of great kindness.  Today, if you perform any act of self-sacrifice, we say its like ‘giving the shirt off your back”‘ to someone.” Are we really willing to do that? Really?

A friend of mine and I had a brief discussion about this Sunday morning. We had both had a very similar ‘conversation’ with God in the past week.  I was simply getting dressed. In my mind I heard ‘ Isn’t that a favorite shirt?’ Uh, yeah. Well I want it. What? That shirt. This one?  Yes. My friend didn’t give up the shirt. But he promptly found a place to donate the same amount he had paid for the shirt. It was a really nice shirt.

It’s a sad fact that what some people give, they wouldn’t put on their own back.  I have had people knowingly donate incredibly dirty and torn items and say “Surely someone with nothing would appreciate this”. This is probably a true statement if we were talking about a third world country. Even at that I would question the ‘blessing’.  But we are not in a third world country. We are in West Cobb.

The children and families receiving items donated go to work and school with us. They shop in the same Walmart we do. They want to look just like you and me. Not stand out. The reality you are needy is handled better when you can just fit in. A kind of camouflage. Sometimes the items donated are sold to generate funds to help feed these families, pay a bill or provide housing.

Times are tough. There is a lot of need. If you didn’t have a spare dime because things are tight in your own household would you simply give the shirt off of your back?  Really? It’s a thought provoking question.

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The Box

He cried. He hugged the box and cried. The shoes were already on his feet, but he hugged that box. A big grin was on is face. I don’t always get that response when I have shoes for someone but just when I am at my weariest I am blessed with another’s joy in the work I am doing.

Every Thursday night we go out and feed the homeless. I sit at a table at the beginning of the food line with a notebook to take prayer requests and requests for clothing and shoes. Sometimes it’s a request for a belt, back pack or new underwear.  Sometimes they ask for prayer over finding a job or being reunited with family. Most need shoes. Donations of men’s gently used or new shoes are rare. I have to go and purchase them weekly. I can usually only buy about 10 pairs. It depends on donations. I bag them up and have their name on the bag. They are proud to tell you their name. They matter.

Imagine being a homeless person. Nameless and faceless and seen as a bother to most and treated as such. Have you ever felt rejected? Abandoned? Shunned by friends or family? It’s the most amazing feeling to have someone to look into your eyes and care. To hug you even when you are filthy.  To see that you are in need and meet it.  To sit and talk with you. You respond. Even abandoned, filthy, hungry dogs respond to a bath, food and petting. They become loyal and trusted friends. That’s what some of these guys are doing with us. It takes time. They are afraid of being hurt again. Abandoned again.

A simple gift of shoes brought tremendous joy to a man. It’s all I had to give. Later that evening when most had left the parking lot I turned around and saw a woman sitting on the ground. She was carefully taking her precious few belongings out of a plastic bag and putting them in a box.  That man had given all he had to give. She was smiling. Someone cared.

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