What started out as a simple way for a couple to serve God in the 1990s has blossomed into a life-changing and life-saving ministry for the homeless and other less fortunate members of the North Georgia community.
The seed for what has become known as Greater Works was planted 23 years ago when Darlene Hill of Dalton told her husband, Robert, that they needed to do something for the church they were attending. After consulting with their associate pastor, reading a book by Tommy Barnette called “There’s a Miracle in the House” and much prayer, Darlene “came up with the idea that we would go to the park and serve breakfast to the men in the park,” Robert recalls.
“And you’re gonna go invite them,” Darlene told her husband.
“Well, where are they?” Robert asked her.
“They’re in Dalton Green behind the Krystal,” came her answer.
“Well, how do you know they’re homeless?” Robert continued.
“I just know they are, and you’re going to go invite them,” Darlene said.
So on the first Saturday in June, some 23 years ago, Robert and another young man went to the park and met six homeless men and invited them to their church the next morning.
“Four of them took us up on it,” Robert recalled, “and that’s where it all started.”
Today, the ministry has morphed into Greater Works, which serves about 2,500 meals a month to the homeless, and gives food to 250 to 300 families a month through their food pantry.
“We serve lunch Monday through Thursday,” Robert says. “We open the center up for them to come in and take showers, do laundry, just kind of get a reprise, if you will, from the cold or the heat four days a week. Then we serve dinner three nights a week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Nine years ago, Greater Works became an independent 501(c) 3 organization and rented a building at the old Big Apple behind Advance Auto Parts on South Thornton Avenue.
“Now we have a food pantry, clothing pantry, furniture and household ministry where we give away things that are given to us,” Robert said. “In fact, I just went and picked up a dryer today that we’ll give to somebody in need. Then we also help with a small amount of rent assistance, a small amount of utility assistance and prescriptions (we have an optometrist that does eye exams for us, and we take them to the local Walmart and get those filled for glasses).”
Greater Works also teams up with other similar ministries in Whitfield County, places like Compassion House, Family Promise, Providence Ministries and City of Refuge, among others.
“Between the partnerships, we have found we can help folks more than we can do individually,” Robert said.
Most recently, during the extremely cold weather during January, Greater Works – with help from Whitfield County Emergency Management Agency and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers – provided a warming shelter for dozens of homeless people, who might otherwise have frozen to death if left outside.
“We were open for seven nights during that first cold snap in January,” Robert said. “The first night was a Monday night, and we had no one to come that night. But then the next night, I think there were nine people, and by the third night, we were up to 20 to 25. We also fed people three meals a day for that length of time.”
The warming shelter opened up again a few days in mid-January, “and we started off with a bang and ended with a bang,” Robert said. “We borrowed 26 cots from Red Cross through Whitfield Emergency Management, and we had folks sleeping on the floors some nights, so we had as many as 27-28 at one time seeking shelter.”
Greater Works has been providing a warm place for the homeless for years, and Robert says they’ll be ready to help in the coming weeks this winter if the temperatures again make an extreme drop.
“What we want to do is provide a place for them to come when the temperature’s below freezing at night,” he said. “Most of the folks we deal with are on the street – they’re sleeping in tents or cars, or whatever. So we try to provide for them a place that they can be safe and warm and at least have some form of shelter.”
Robert serves as director of the organization, but don’t think he’s turned the ministry into a paying job. Like all the other volunteers in Greater Works, he’s donating his time.
“We don’t have any paid staff,” he said. “Everybody in the ministry that works with us is a volunteer – we don’t pay any salaries, we don’t pay anybody to do anything, we rely strictly on volunteers.”
Greater Works, he says, “runs on donations from the public. We work off the generosity of the people of this community. There’s one foundation that more or less underwrites our overhead as far as our rent, utilities, insurance, things like that, which is very helpful, and then the rest of it just comes through folks, the kindness of their hearts to give us resources to supply for people.”
Hill expressed thanks to Whitfield EMA – “otherwise we’d have to go out and buy cots,” he says. “They help us with that, and they do send us CERT volunteers when they have someone willing to volunteer.”
He points out that the food pantry at Greater Works is unusual in that unlike some others, they will help people no matter where they are from.
“If you have a need, you come and see us – Whitfield, Gordon, Catoosa, Murray or wherever, you can come to our food pantry and we will help you. If you say you need food, then we’ll give you food. If you say you need clothing, we’ll give you clothing. If you say you need furniture and we have it, we’ll give you that. That’s kinda what we do.”
Greater Works is also what’s known as a “client’s choice” food pantry.
“We don’t give away a box of food like most food pantries do,” Robert said. “Our clients get to come in and shop and choose for themselves what they desire to eat, and then we put all of it in clean, new grocery bags and send them home just like if they’d been to Kroger or Walmart.”
The community is definitely better off for Darlene and Robert Hill’s desire to help the homeless 23 years ago.
“God provides, okay?” Robert says humbly. “He said in the beginning, if we do what He asks us to do, He would make sure that every need was met – and He has so far for 23 years. And we give Him the honor and the glory for it.”
If you’d like to help Greater Works by donating your time or money, please call Robert Hill at 706-270-2239.