From the Heart: Caring Hands

Community partners join with Putnam Christian Outreach for an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to serving the increased needs of the community during a pandemic.

For more than 28 years, Putnam Christian Outreach has worked to serve the Eatonton community “with caring hands and loving hearts” through  food, clothing, and financial assistance for prescriptions, medical travel, and utilities. And through the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization certainly lived up to its name.

The outreach came in many forms and from many community partners as schools shut down, businesses shuttered, and more and more residents found themselves in need of a little extra to get them through the tough weeks and months ahead.

Cars lined up for drive-through food distribution events and were met with an outpouring of support from various community organizations.

Putnam Life Source and Golden Harvest Food Bank in Augusta provided boxes of food. The National Guard was on hand to help package and distribute them. The Episcopal Church brought diapers. The Oconee Regional Humane Society brought dog and cat food.

The Putnam County Charter School System was there two days a week to provide hot breakfasts and lunches so its students didn’t experience a gap.

PCO became a hub of helping hands.

“It’s been such a wonderful community effort,” says Vanessa Jackson, director of PCO. “We’ve been here for 28 years plus, and typically we only serve about 180 families. Last month, in April, we fed 388.”

She says there were a lot of new faces that came through as a result of the pandemic.

“We had families that had never been in, which was so good,” says Jackson. “The loving staff and volunteers made them feel good about it. A lot of people are not used to getting food from a food bank, but because of COVID, those people had to get in line for food and didn’t know what to do or where to turn.”

She’s just thankful, she says, that this building was here for them.

The building on Industrial Boulevard in Eatonton houses not only a food bank, but a thrift store that sells donated clothing, home goods, and small appliances to pay for the building’s upkeep. There’s also a “medical library” where people can check out various medical equipment like crutches, canes, or wheelchairs for temporary use. There’s a chapel that offers 30-minute words of encouragement on the first and third Friday of every month.

They have a team that mentors children and a team that goes into local jails to meet with inmates one-on-one to let them know theirs is not a hopeless situation. They have a backpack ministry for students going back to school.

“It’s just so great to see that, under this little small roof, we’re able to house so many things,” says Jackson

Then there’s financial assistance provided to qualifying families in need of help with utilities, rent, mortgage, food vouchers, or life-sustaining medications. Jackson says there has been a steady rise in applications since the pandemic began.

“We survive just on donations,” says Jackson. “Thank God the community has been very generous.”

The organization is supported primarily by individuals and area churches. Most recently, The Leadership Putnam Class of 2020 pledged to support PCO with the goal of raising $5,000 for the non-profit organization.

Thirty years ago, the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce established its Leadership Putnam program which involves members of the community participating in programs designed to strengthen leadership skills and learn more about their immediate community. Before moving on to become ambassadors for their hometown, graduates must work together on a final project to contribute to the community. Past projects have supported local government and non-profits and led to the development of the Plaza Arts Center. 

This year, the Leadership Putnam Class of 2020 was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and had to find a creative way to finish supporting their community while social distancing.

Class member Judy Fain, who serves on the board of Putnam Christian Outreach, was well aware of how crucial the organization would be in the coming weeks and months. She knew extra support would be needed to serve a growing number of those in need as unemployment numbers began their sharp increase.

“We started asking ourselves what we could do that’s beneficial to our community and would make a difference right now,” says Emily Holt, Tourism and Special Events Coordinator for the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce.

Holt says Putnam Christian Outreach checked every box for the things the Class of 2020 wanted to support. “They all agreed we wanted to stand behind their cause and help them through this pandemic.”

Early on, before shelter in place orders were given, class members went to help stock the food pantry and help people apply for financial assistance for utilities or medication.     

“As the pandemic went on, we had to be sensitive about how we went about helping because we knew people might not be willing to volunteer or bring donations because of sheltering in place, so we knew the easiest route would be to create a Go Fund Me campaign so people could provide exactly what was needed.”

Linda Farley, who manages the thrift store at Putnam Christian Outreach said they were humbled and honored that the Leadership Class of 2020 selected their organization.

“COVID has hit us hard financially,” says Farley. “We have to help more people and give out more food, so this donation will relieve some of the financial burden we have so we can help carry the greater burden for our community.”

Aside from monetary donations, nonperishable food and home goods are being accepted and can be dropped off at 151 Industrial Blvd. in Eatonton.

For more information, visit putnamchristianoutreach.webs.com, and to contribute, visit gofundme.com and search for Putnam Christian Outreach.

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