This Dec. 25, just like every Christmas Day for the past few years, hundreds of people will begin lining up in the wee hours of the morning to celebrate Christmas with the good folks at Providence Ministries.
Last year, in fact, the queue began forming at 1:30 a.m. and by around 3 p.m. more than 4,000 meals had been served and thousands of toys had been placed in the hands of thousands of children.
It’s an annual tradition at Providence, and it’s just one of the many wonderful things they do to serve this community and beyond.
The Christmas toy giveaway is the biggest of its kind in the area, and already this year, between 4,500-5,000 toys have been collected and are “lying in wait.” It does my heart good to know that this organization makes sure that area children go home with at least three toys apiece, on a day that is synonymous with both giving and receiving.
But it’s the ongoing mission of Providence that’s truly commendable. The fact that the community kitchen at Providence dishes out three meals a day — 365 days a year — is a godsend in a community that has had its share of hard economic times since the recent recession.
The doors of Providence do not close. The facility on South Hamilton Street stays open 24/7 because the staff understands that people’s needs don’t adhere to a calendar of convenience. When a person needs the services of Providence, he or she needs them right then — in real time.
Providence has several core missions, chiefly among them to provide addiction recovery to men and women; to provide shelter to men, women and children; to feed the hungry; and to relieve spiritual poverty.
Those are lofty goals, but goals that are attainable and achievable, and have been since Providence’s founder, Roy Johnson, felt called to start this ministry of improving the conditions of those struggling with spiritual, social and economic woes.
Johnson was a former CEO who realized that despite his financial and professional success as measured by worldly standards, there was something missing from his life. He wanted to live a more God-centered life, and soon after he embraced that desire he found himself with a new career on the front lines of ministry and mission work.
Much of the mission work undertaken by Providence Ministries involves its numerous alcohol and drug recovery programs for men and women in both Georgia and Tennessee, which include programs in home and transitional settings. The Trammel Street apartments are an example of a “transitional” setting, where people from all walks of life continue their recovery in an environment similar to that which they’ll be coming back to. Their motto is “Growing Away, not Going Away,” a fitting slogan to reflect that stage of the process.
In addition to the addiction recovery programs, Providence supports multiple boys’ homes, the Youth Detention Center and homeless shelters in Calhoun and Dalton that provide beds and meals for homeless men, women and children.
Providence has been in operation in Georgia since 1985, and its mission has not strayed from its core, but the organization has continued to evolve to meet changing needs. Just a couple of years ago, Providence opened a Christian women’s addiction center in Rocky Face. Soon a food pantry will be established to alleviate the problems of hunger in the area, and a larger men’s shelter is under construction on Oxford Street in Dalton to shelter the increasing numbers of folks without homes.
And, of course, the four thrift stores operated by Providence Ministries provide clothing, furniture and other needed goods at reasonable prices. That’s a ministry, too. It’s a great place for all of us to donate those items that we longer need, and my family and I donate on a regular basis.
This season is the best time of year to think of others who have stumbled upon hard times. Soon, Christmas Day will be here, and many thousands of our area neighbors will enjoy a good hot Christmas dinner while their children experience the joy of picking out just the right toy. We’re lucky to have a place like Providence in our own backyard. Thank you, Providence, for all you do.
Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.