There are people in Rome that live in tents and cars said Merlene Justice, founder of Reach Ministries, at the annual Thanksgiving Meal for the homeless she puts on with volunteers. Justice feeds the homeless and others in need at Heritage Park every Tuesday at 3 p.m. However, due to recent rain, the levee and Heritage Park were both closed Tuesday, leaving Justice with nowhere to serve food. Fortunately, the Church at Rome let Justice host the event in their building where over 200 people were served a full Thanksgiving meal.
Northside Church brought meats for the meal as well as 50 volunteers to help with the event. Members of the Pepperell High School basketball team also came and helped serve food and pass out gloves, coats, socks and scarves to anyone who needed them. Bags and to-go plates were given to anyone who asked.
“If someone is without a home or hungry, they need to be fed,” Justice said.
Her passion for helping those in the community who are without comes from being homeless and addicted to drugs over 11-years ago, she said. Justice said she gives out tents and sleeping bags to those who are living outside this winter, but it isn’t enough. She said she recently gave someone a sleeping bag, but he caught pneumonia in his tent and died at the hospital a few days later.
“If anyone is up for opening a homeless shelter, I’m game,” she said.
She added the local shelters are all full or won’t take certain people because of mental health issues. Justice said her current needs are volunteers and donations. She told a story of a couple who donated a dining room table for a man who was just getting on his feet and how it meant so much to him because he was getting something nice. Justice added there is also a need for sponsors to help those who live in their cars get back on their feet.
Elizabeth Little used to be homeless and talked about a time before people like Justice helped feed homeless and poor people. Wearing a colorful scarf she got from inside the church, she said her options were to ask people for money or go hungry.
“The looks I would get,” Little said. “This one woman grabbed her purse and ran like I was gonna take it.”
It made her cry, and she told her husband she would rather go hungry than ask someone for money or food again. Recently she and her husband Red, a veteran wounded in Desert Storm, were allowed to live in a house in exchange for construction work. Little said she and her husband have been helping others like them get on their feet and pay it forward.
Reach Ministries was founded five years ago on Dec. 5 to serve those in Rome and Floyd County who are homeless or in need by providing a hot meal and clothes at Heritage Park every Tuesday at 3 p.m. For more information visit their website at reachministries.life.