The Gospel and groceries: Chattahoochee Association ministry turns away no one


Members of the student group at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville help prepare items for distribution at the Good Samaritan Center of Chattahoochee Baptist Association. Director Alvin Bagwell describes 90% of the Center's clientele as "working class people with lower paying jobs." ALVIN BAGWELL/Special

GAINESVILLE — A woman stood at the door. She was hesitant, uncertain. Compelled to go in, she opened the door boldly and was greeted by a volunteer.

She started to share her story. Tears filled the woman’s eyes as she described how her daughter had fallen back into drug use. The woman – a grandmother – shared that she lives on a fixed income and now is responsible for caring for her grandchildren. She wasn’t sure how to do this, how to make ends meet, how to feed the children. What could she do?

Situations like these are not unfamiliar to volunteers and workers at the Good Samaritan Ministries in Gainesville.

Volunteers at the Good Samaritan Center. Two volunteers talk in the warehouse of the Good Samaritan Center. At left is Paul Patton, a member of Oakwood First Baptist Church, and on the right is Reed Elrod, of Central Baptist Church. ALVIN BAGWELL/Special

Director Alvin Bagwell has worked with the ministry, which is owned by the Chattahoochee Baptist Association, for over seven years. When he first started, the ministry served about 15,000 people a year. Now, it serves over 100,000 people through food distribution, hygiene clinics, counseling, clothing, and furniture. It also hosts job fairs where people can learn job interview skills and update their resumes.

Bagwell said about 37% of the 100,000 people the ministry serves are children and 10-12% are senior adults.

“We have seen a huge increase in senior adults coming in,” Bagwell said. “They have inherited their children’s children, they’re on fixed incomes, and they have to feed the children.”

Good Samaritan primarily serves Hall County residents, but it crosses over into the surrounding counties.

“Ninety percent of the people we see are working class people with lower paying jobs,” Bagwell said. “They earn $10 an hour, work 40 hours a week, and then have a $1,300 rent payment each month. How do you make ends meet?”

Other clients include single parents, students from the local colleges struggling to make ends meet, families in times of turmoil, and even families who lost the only worker parent.

“We don’t refuse anybody,” Bagwell said.

Bagwell said Good Samaritan provides groceries for clients after an application process. Each grocery pick-up, or delivery, for its clients are 100 pounds of food.

When Bagwell started with the ministry, the food was distributed every 90 days. Because of outside funding, donations, and volunteers, that 90 days has been cut down to 30. In addition to meeting physical needs, the ministry also attempts to meet the spiritual needs of everyone who enters the doors of the 10,000-square-foot facility.

“In a year’s time, we see 90 to 130 salvations,” Bagwell said. “We share the gospel with everyone, unless they say they don’t want to hear it.”

Clyde Pettus, a counselor and trustee for Good Samaritan, said he attempts to engage everyone he meets on a daily basis.

“We talk to them and find out what’s going on in their life,” Pettus said. “We find out about sickness. We pray with them, and we share if there’s an opportunity. I’ve only had one person in seven years who was not interested in hearing the gospel.”

Pettus said he was able to lead 20 people to Christ last year. On Mondays, the busiest day for the ministry, counselors can talk to over 100 people.

Young people from Gainesville at the Good Samaritan Center A group of students from Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville stand with Associate Minister of Recreation Andrew Hartfield, in back with a beard, on a day of service at the Good Samaritan Center at Chattahoochee Baptist Association. ALVIN BAGWELL/Special

“There are a lot of stories I could share,” Pettus said. “We sit down, and we listen to them. We assure them of Jesus Christ’s love and that he hears every prayer they ever prayed.”

Pettus said several of his clients have disabilities, are going through a tough time, or are experiencing other family or work issues that prevent them from working consistently.

“People don’t realize how people struggle in this day and time,” Pettus said. “A lot of people just can’t work. They try, but can’t. They are just getting by.”

The only way this ministry works is by partnerships, volunteers, and donations. Bagwell said the ministry partners with some local grocery stores to salvage slightly beat-up cans. The local Pepsi company donates soft drinks. The ministry has its own refrigerated truck, so it can take orders that were cancelled or overstocked from chicken companies. From there, the ministry shares the meat with eight other local ministries that don’t have a refrigerated truck.

Part of the funds to keep this ministry running come from the donations of Georgia Baptists to the Global Hunger Relief fund. The fund goes toward funding hunger relief initiatives locally, nationally, and internationally. This year, the fund takes place on October 13.

“God has tremendously blessed this ministry,” Bagwell said. “All I had to do was put forth effort and work. God has grown this ministry. Since I’ve been here we’ve gained refrigerators and coolers. We’ve added second floors.”

Pettus said he would encourage people who want to volunteer to come and observe. He said he and his wife joined the ministry after moving to the area in 2012.

“I advise them to come and get involved,” Pettus said. “Look and see what goes on in this ministry. There are over 100 volunteers who will be in and out throughout the week trying to help. There are many different jobs that need to be done.

“I’m thankful for people who volunteer. They are dedicated, and it’s like a family. It’s a family of volunteers.”

associational missions, community missions, hunger