North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

February 6, 2013

Doing Unto Others: Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist members serve the homeless at Jimmie Hale Mission

By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — From all appearances, the activity of a group of local volunteers is a labor of love.

A mission team from Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church served supper to about 150 homeless men at the Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham on Monday night — something they do once or twice a quarter.

There were smiles on all of their faces as the men and women dished up hot dogs, beans, chips, tea and huge chunks of cake.

“Every time is a different experience,” said Jim Jeffreys, who heads up the volunteers. They have been serving food and leading worship at the Jimmie Hale Mission for eight years.

“I feel like God has blessed me and I want to give back,” Jeffreys said. “We’re helping in a small way, but the guys are so grateful.”

Judy Huff, who helped serve tea to the men, agreed.

“They are so appreciative,” she said. “Almost every one of them comes up and thanks us. You get a blessing you’ll never get anywhere else.”

One of the volunteers, Doug Wells, can identify with some of the men at the shelter. Before praying over the evening meal, Wells told the room full of men that he himself is in recovery, with eight years of sobriety under his belt — an admission that drew loud applause from the crowd.

“When I see these guys, I see a lot of hope and I see God’s plan for each one of them,” Wells said. “This is just such a good place. I’m so thankful there’s a place for men to get a second chance, and a third chance and a fourth chance.”

The church members clearly benefit personally from their volunteerism, and the church body is one that needs encouragement. Less than a month ago, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Terry Greer, was charged with murder and attempted murder as he allegedly shot his wife and daughter at their home, which was the church parsonage. His wife, Lisa Greer, died of her wounds.

Greer had been at the church only a few months, and for much of that time he was not in the pulpit due to health issues.

The church is moving forward, however, in part by reaching out.

“The more you take the focus off yourself and (put it) on others, that’s healing,” Jeffreys said.

Bonnie Hendrix, director of advancement for the Jimmie Hale Mission, said volunteers like the group from Gardendale-Mt. Vernon are a tremendous benefit to the men who are served by the mission, and are a help to the mission itself.

She said members of the Gardendale team not only serve the men food, but they visit and talk with them, and share their own lives and stories with those in the shelter.

History

The Gardendale group not only serves food, but it purchases the meal and makes other monetary donations as well. When groups support the mission in such a way, it helps keep the organization running, as it depends on donations to stay in operation.

The Jimmie Hale Mission is for men only; it’s counterpart, Jessie’s Place, cares for women and children.

Jimmie Hale — who was formerly known as the town drunk, according to the Jimmie Hale Mission website — opened the mission in 1944 as a shelter for the homeless along with his wife, Jessie. The first location of the mission was a storefront; in it, Hale had sold his last drink as a bartender, the website stated.

Eight months after opening the shelter, Jimmie Hale died at the age of 39 from the after-effects of many years of heavy drinking. Jessie, who was 27 and pregnant, continued their dream.

In 1954, Leo Shepura came on board to help Jessie; they worked together for the mission for 36 years.

Then in 1990, Tony Cooper became the mission’s executive director.