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'God's Closet' in Pittsburg doubles in size since January's move

By Kim Cox East Texas Community Newspapers
July 22, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Anthony Drake has gone from getting a helping hand to giving a helping hand.

The beneficiary of God's Closet when it operated from Emmanuel Baptist Church, Drake said as he walked by the new location at 129 Jefferson St. he saw the food and clothing pantry needed help.

Drake said he went to God's Closet back when it was operating from Emmanuel Baptist Church. After they moved to their new location, Drake said he was walking by and saw they needed help.

"I wasn't working at the time, and they needed some help," he said. That's when he started volunteering.

Drake said he started helping them unload and from then on, he's been one of the volunteers at God's Closet.

"He'll do anything we need," said Danny Burns, who, along with his wife, Alethea, is one of the main organizers. "Because of the service we provided, he now volunteers."

Drake, who now has a job with the county road crews, said his cupboards had been bare and he had skipped meals.

"They've been a blessing to me," he said.

It's the kind of story Burns hears often. In January, less than two months after the food bank moved, 534 people were helped by God's Closet. In June, that number hit 1,051 people.

"We're helping one-tenth of (the people) in Camp County, and it's not the same people each month," she said. "Now, they've just been pouring in."

Danny Burns said that all anyone has to do to receive food or clothing is prove they are a resident of Camp County. No questions are asked about financial status.

"There will be some people that will take advantage, but most are sincere, and when you pray for them, you can see it in their eyes," Danny Burns said.

Most of the people who come in do ask for people to pray for them, she said.

"We stop to take time to pray with them," Alethea Burns said. "Most of the time they pray for jobs."

Burns said he finds it interesting that in the past month God's Closet has had 60 first time families come in.

"We are seeing a consistent increase in first-time users," he said.

His wife said she's been down to the welfare office, and they told her they are seeing an increase as well.

"We know the economy of the area has slowed down, and we have to recognize that Camp County's economy has taken a hit," she said.

Kathy Higginbotham, who is one of the regulars at God's Closet, said she's on a fixed income with disability pay, and every bit from God's Closet helps.

"I only get a certain amount of food stamps, $40, and I'm a diabetic," she said.

<strong>Churches join mission</strong>

The move from Emmanuel Baptist Church has brought on more than just numbers of needy people. Several local churches have also joined the pantry's mission to feed and clothe Camp County.

First Baptist, First United Methodist, Piney Grove Baptist, Holy Cross Catholic and Gracias y Verdad churches support the pantry through donations and volunteers.

"There has been other churches that do things like hold food drives," Alethea Burns said.

Individuals not necessarily associated with churches also come to help.

"I think that's beautiful, too," she said. "We've had several local farmers that have brought in produce."

The amount varies from month to month, but it's generally in the neighborhood of 8,000 pounds given away to local residents, she said.

"I used to think a ton of food was a lot," she said.

People have been very generous, she said. Three months ago, Campbell's Soup made a donation to the food pantry.

"We thought just Danny and I would be enough," she said. "It was 10,000 pounds of food. So, we called Bro. Kyle [Smith], and he called other people, and we got 30 people to show up and help."

Campbell's donations aside, the bulk of the food comes from the six churches, and whatever else is necessary is purchased from the East Texas Food Bank.

With about 120 volunteers from the six churches, no single person is overburdened. Volunteer Linda Cortelyou said she is blessed by the couple of days every other month that she is there.

"I get more out of every day that I'm here than I give," she said. "The people you work with are awesome people. It just leaves you with good feelings."

The pantry doesn't have a telephone, however, important messages may be routed through the office of Emmanuel Baptist Church at (903) 856-3411. The hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 12 noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

"Without God's Closet, a lot of the poor people would be up a creek with no paddle," Danny Burns said.



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