On a chilly, sunny Saturday afternoon under the Calhoun Expressway on 15th Street, Latoya Wilson pulled her 3-year-old son, Jabari, away from the net that surrounded the secured children’s area.
He had spent an hour playing with children while his mother attended a worship service nearby and appeared ready to go back among his peers.
This was the first time Wilson attended the Thanksgiving dinner and worship service held annually by the Bridge Ministry. More than 1,000 homeless or impoverished people received a hot turkey dinner and a new coat Saturday.
“I enjoyed it,” said Wilson, who lives near T.W. Josey High School. She was invited by a friend.
“I just wanted to enjoy the show,” she said.
The Bridge Ministry is a joint endeavor between New Hope Worship Center, First Baptist Church of Augusta, the Augusta Rescue Mission and other area churches.
Worship services and hot meals are offered every Saturday at 1 p.m. in the same location. New Hope and First Baptist alternate organizing services.
A typical Saturday serves between 250 and 300 people. After the service, either clothing or food is distributed.
The biggest challenge for the homeless is a meal, and they typically average one a day, said Byron Brown, who leads the volunteer group from First Baptist.
In Augusta, there are thousands living in abandoned buildings or cars or on the streets. Brown said he read an article that referred to them as “invisible people” and thought it an apt description. Society doesn’t see them because they are loners and tend to stay out of sight, he said.
“There are a lot of homeless here today that you wouldn’t really think of as being homeless until you really stopped and studied them,” he said. “Everything they own is on their back or in their backpack.”
Many in attendance who do have homes are impoverished, Brown said.
“They may be working, some of them have jobs, but they are the working poor,” he said. “They can barely make ends meet.”
Some of the volunteers Saturday said they hope to bring people to God and break a cycle of poverty, hardship and despair that is often generational.
“If we can reach one kid, that kid may be the key that changes a generation,” said John Beilman, who, with his wife, Kim, volunteered with the children’s bridge ministry for New Hope Worship Center.
Destiny Dorsey attended Saturday with her mother, Tina Dorsey; her daughter, Faith Gray, 4; and her nephew, Zyion Jones, 10. They live off Mike Padgett Highway and came to have a good time as a family.
“It’s just Thanksgiving and we just wanted to do something with the kids and be thankful, and just have a good time instead of always negative stuff,” she said.