Editors Note: This is a 3 part series focusing on local community programs that serve those who may be hungry in our community. If you know of other programs in the South Georgia area, we’d love to tell their story too. Simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us all about them.
Over the past five years, Thelma Brown, Bonnie Nobles, and Judy Chavis have grown to understand just how far a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread can go to feed a community. What started with a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has now turned into a full-blown enterprise that goes far beyond a few sack lunches. Now the trio offer whatever is needed and if they don’t have it, they can usually find a way to get it.
Called to Serve
Thelma Brown noticed the hungry children in her community. She saw a lot of things that most people try to turn a blind eye to simply because it’s unpleasant. People get lost in their own lives and often stop noticing the plight of others. Not Thelma. She knew she needed to do something. Sitting idly by and watching others suffer was not something she was willing to do.
“I’ve been praying for God to use me to do something. I feel like I’m supposed to feed people and help people out. Something has prompted me to feed people,” she said.
And that is precisely what she set out to do.
Georgia’s Families Are In Need
After a little research Thelma learned a few interesting bits of information. Georgia is ranked fourth in the nation for “food insecurities and hunger.” Berrien County is ranked sixth in Georgia for child hunger. These numbers were unacceptable and Thelma knew something had to be done. She eventually met Judy Chavis and the two began working on putting together a summer feeding program for the kids who lived in Alapaha. She talked to her pastor and started to set things in motion. While the schools provide additional meals and food to the children during the school year, kids in the area had few to no resources for summer meals.
It Started Small
The Peanut Butter and Jesus Outreach started with just a sandwich. Now the children receive a sandwich, drink, chips, and a snack. Sometimes they can even offer backpack meals that they get from Second Harvest.
Judy said, “We’re doing 120 to 150 meals just in Alapaha. During the summer, these children have nothing. A lot of them are not in town. They can’t walk to the library and get free food. They are out on the farms in the country.”
The kids now rely on the PBJ & O crew to visit them during the summer.
Thelma said, “The first time kids chased me like I was the ice cream truck. We’re needing a van really bad.”
More and more of the community is starting to look to Thelma, Bonnie, and Judy when things start to get tough. Single parents who struggle to make ends meet and grandparents who take in their grandchildren even though they are on a fixed income are just a few of the people that look to the group for help. All three women agree. You have to take care of the people around you. It has become their mission.
Bonnie said, “This is a God thing. He provides everything we need.”
There are times when even they don’t know where the funds will come from, but it never fails. Once the need is identified, within a short time the man above intervenes. They either receive a check or a phone call from someone who has something to offer them.
Over the past six years, Peanut Butter and Jesus Outreach has expanded to help in other ways. A few years ago, the group received a phone call from DFDCS saying that several families had backed out of sponsoring 7 children. The women stepped up and took on all 7 cases. It was Christmas time and the need was high. They gathered clothing, toys, shoes, and food to make sure all of their newly sponsored children would have what they needed under their tree Christmas morning.
“Some of these kids have not had a bed of their own. Some kids are more excited about getting a bed than they are a new bicycle,” Thelma added. “We provide shoes, clothes, whatever they need.”
Expanding Their Outreach
While many of the communities in Georgia have “peanut butter and Jesus” ministries, Peanut Butter and Jesus Outreach has gone much farther than just meals. They have expanded their outreach to include clothing, furniture, and necessary items that these children and adults need. Bonnie focuses primarily on working with foster kids and seniors.
“We gather toiletries like deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and other items they may not have once they’re removed from their home. Many kids come with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” she said.
The women work hand in hand with DFCS to make sure these children and adults are taken care of.
When it comes to furniture and larger items, they tell people to have their DFCS representative contact them with all of the necessary information. That way they know the people who are genuinely in need are getting what they have to have. The group has one building full of furniture and clothing that Bonnie and the women have accumulated over time.
Bonnie said, “For years I’ve shopped clearance racks knowing someone could eventually use it.”
While Thelma’s focus remains on feeding the children, Judy takes care of the administrative and financial duties of the group. As a 501(c)3, they can take donations and offer a receipt that can be used on your taxes. The group is always ready to accept donations from local vendors and grocery stores when they are offered. They are specifically looking for items that can be placed in the lunch bags they hand out to the children each week.
If you would like to make a donation, you can visit their Facebook page here. You can also reach the women by phone, their numbers listed below.
Thelma Brown – 229-686-0113
Bonnie Nobles – 229-424-8739
Judy Chavis – 352-455-7171