It started with 12 tuna fish sandwiches and a few coats slung over a fence.
Five years later, Eddie and Patsy Skinner’s Neighborhood Outreach Ministry feeds and clothes more than 100 homeless and impoverished neighbors each week.
With a $50,000 donation they received Jan. 22 from 5-Hour Energy’s 5-Hour Energy Helps Amazing People program, there’s no telling how far their ministry will grow.
“I was shocked,” Patsy Skinner said. “The largest donation we’ve had was $500.”
Patsy Skinner said she has no idea who submitted her name for the program, but a host affiliated with the company visited her home and watched the ministry in action. A crew filmed the ministry in action, and the story will appear on the 5-Hour Energy Web site in about six weeks, Patsy Skinner said.
She and her husband started the Neighborhood Outreach Ministry after people from their depressed neighborhood kept stopping in Eddie’s Auto Shop on Old Savannah Road asking for food. The couple decided to begin feeding them a meal in the middle of the week.
“Everyone needs something to look forward to every week to get them going,” she said. “A lot of us will think, ‘I’m looking forward to Friday, because I’m going to get paid. I’m going to go out and eat, go to a show, whatever.’
‘‘These people around here can’t do that. So I thought, give them something to look forward to in the middle of the week, and that’s a meal and any of the clothes and things they find out there.”
Now, every Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m., one of the half dozen or so volunteers will walk to the gate of the Skinner’s south Augusta home and say a blessing over the crowd of people waiting there.
As the gate opens, the guests rush through and fill the concrete drive that separates the couple’s home from the back of the auto shop.
They are allowed to “shop” first by filling a bag with clothing or household items that are stored under a metal carport. The items are free. Children are escorted to a separate place where they are tended while their parents shop.
Afterward, everyone settles down to a hot meal, usually a meat, vegetable, starch, bread and dessert, and a bottle of water.
For those who can’t make it, Eddie Skinner delivers a hot meal and a bag of groceries to at least 35 shut-ins each week. And four meals go to the local fire station, because “I think they deserve it,” Patsy Skinner said.
Guests can also sign up for a Birthday Club, and the week following their birthday they will receive a birthday gift.
“I think people should be honored on their birthday,” she said.
Not everyone who shows up is in dire straits, but Patsy Skinner said she doesn’t believe in enforcing a limit. “I feel like that way, a person who is homeless or a person that’s poor, if you say, ‘Well, you can’t come unless you’re poor or homeless,’ then they’re going to feel like they stand out like a sore thumb. But when you’ve got them all, (they don’t). And then they get in here and they’re like one big family,” she said.
She and Eddie both said that if even a quarter of the people they serve is truly in need, their effort is worth it.
Patsy Skinner said she and her husband are stunned by the generosity of 5-Hour Energy and are still trying to comprehend that much money. They are working to decide how best to use it to meet the ministry’s needs.
One thing they plan to do is add a room to the house to store donations so the couple can reclaim their den. Last week, piles of boxes and bags filled with food, clothing and household items waited to be sorted and distributed. Two freezers in poor condition and a refrigerator also took up wall space that Patsy Skinner will be glad to see again.
They also plan to replace the aging appliances. Freezer space is essential for storing large donations of cooked food the couple sometimes receive following church, civic or company meals or other types of events.
“We had our whole Christmas meal donated to us, every bit of it cooked, right down to the desserts,” she said. “I had to put it in the freezer because we had our Christmas meal the week after Christmas.”
In the beginning, Patsy used her Social Security check to purchase items to give away. Now the ministry receives enough donations that the Skinners don’t have to fund much out-of-pocket, but all of the money they receive goes toward feeding and clothing those in need.
“We’ve never had the money to do the things we really need to do. We’ve just made do with what we’ve got,” Patsy said.
The couple is always taking donations. Patsy said she is working on obtaining 501(c)3 status, but until she does tax deductible donations may be made through Southside Baptist Church. Specify that the donation is the for Neighborhood Outreach Ministry to make sure it reaches the Skinners.