On Main Street in Brent, just past the old lumber yard as you head toward Pondville, you might notice a trailer with a wheelchair ramp on its front porch that sits behind a gravel parking lot. You might drive by and not notice, or not think about it. You might not notice the sign by the road that reads “Compassion and Hope Food Basket.” You might never know that inside that mobile-office-trailer-turned-soup-kitchen over 60 meals are served to those in need every day they are open. You might never hear that since opening their doors in October of 2018, over 12,500 individual meals have been served there.
“I want to get the word out, for people to recognize it, acknowledge it, and come together as a community to help do something about it.”
For Pastor John Skinner, it’s not about the recognition of what he and his group are doing, but the recognition that there is a need here for what they are doing. “None of this is mine. This all belongs to God,” he said, “When I first started trying to get this going, people told me ‘Oh, you’ll get taken advantage of doing that. People will be coming and eating your food that don’t need it.’ They told me there weren’t any homeless around here. They didn’t believe the need was as great as it is. But, Bibb County has a population of a little over 23,000, and over 5,000 of those need assistance … I want to get the word out, for people to recognize it, acknowledge it, and come together as a community to help do something about it. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing that happen.”
You may have seen our article last month, “The Season for Giving: Food Banks in Bibb County” in which we laid out the numbers and discussed H.O.P.E. in Bibb, the food bank committee that has brought the county’s nine food banks together into a joint organization to help each other help those in need. Pastor Skinner is the Chairman of that organization, and it is part of his vision for the future of helping those in need in Bibb.
“I got the idea from the group ‘One Roof’ in Birmingham,” Skinner said, “where they have offices all over the county, and depending on what you need, they can direct you to the right office to get that help.” His goal is to have it that way here, where if one food bank has lots of meat, for example, but needs a deep freeze to store it, and another has an underused freezer, they can work together. “Different groups have different things they do more of typically. Different kinds of help for different kinds of needs. We can direct people to whatever type of help they need. Food of course, and clothing. Medical help, dental help; we’ve even had people that needed mechanic work find help with that.”
H.O.P.E. in Bibb (Helping Other People Excel) strives to not only get the word out that help is needed and generate a community effort to give that help, but to make those that need the help aware it is available. “We’ve been here a year and a lot of people still don’t know we exist. That’s kind of surprising to me, really, but I find people all the time who don’t know about us,” Skinner said.
A long range goal for the vision of Compassion and Hope, the Brent food bank and soup kitchen run by Pastor Skinner along with his family, friends, and volunteers, is to acquire land – hopefully a plot adjacent to the property they currently own – to build a tiny-house community for those who need help at such a level. But it wouldn’t stop with just roofs over heads. “I’d like to see classes for money management and things like that, to help them learn how to manage their finances better. And there would be requirements to live there. Work a job. Save a certain percent of your pay so that when you leave you have the ability to get started on your own.” Skinner admits the goal is a long way down the road, but is something he hopes to achieve.
“I’ve been serving food to those in need since 1995,” he recalled, “mostly in Birmingham, but all over the world. I remember the first time I went to serve the homeless on Christmas – I was invited along with another person – I realized that was what I was supposed to do with my life. I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve learned a thing or two about how to do it, and I want to bring that here, home to Bibb County where I’m from, and help the people here. I’ve been trying to get it set up for a lot of years, and now here we are.”
Pastor Skinner said that although their group is also a ministry, they are not a church and there is no religious or other requirement for anyone to eat or get assistance. “We don’t ask questions. Someone might pull up in a BMW and come in to eat. We’re going to feed them, because we don’t know their story. They might be about to lose that car. That might be all they have in the world. We’re not here to judge. We’re here to help.” He added that although they don’t require anyone to pray or participate in any religious service, often regular visitors will ask them to pray with them. Many times people need assistance beyond food and clothing (which they also help to provide through donations), such as an ear to listen to problems, or just a friend to talk to. “Some people come here with some really tough stuff going on, and we will listen and help however we can.”
With Christmas approaching, our local Wal-Mart has joined forces with Compassion and Hope, selling pre-bagged groceries that people may purchase for usually $4-$5 per bag. 102 bags have been purchased in the first two days alone, according to Skinner. “They said they’re going to be doing this until the Monday before Christmas. Imagine if 500 people bought one of these. They said some people came in and bought five or ten at a time. I think it’s great, it’s just amazing.” The bags go to Compassion and Hope Food Pantry directly, where the contents will be used to prepare meals.
If you would like to help, whether financially or direct donation of food items, clothing items, paper products (plates, etc.), or in the form of your time as a volunteer, you can email Pastor Skinner at email@example.com or call him at 205-876-6931, or just stop by the soup kitchen at 1728 Main Street in Brent. All types of help are appreciated. “Even if all you can do is sit at a table and talk to somebody, that’s needed.” If your only way to help is to help raise awareness of the need in Bibb County, that is also appreciated. You can also follow Compassion and Hope’s Facebook page (click here), and share their posts and events.
If you or someone you know needs help with food or other assistance, just stop by anytime they’re open. Currently they serve lunch daily 11:00 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. to anyone who shows up to eat, no questions asked, no forms to fill out. Just be welcomed with love, compassion, and hope.