CONYERS - Instead of shopping for last-minute Christmas gifts or spending free time with friends, a few teenagers and their fellow church members spent the Saturday before Christmas helping the homeless of Atlanta.
For the last five years, Living Way Worship Center has taken a group of church members to Atlanta to give the homeless food, coats, Bibles and other items.
"I turned my life over to the Lord more than five years ago, and I saw the people who are in need and less fortunate," said Charlie Morris, youth pastor at the church, which meets at Woodlee's Christian Academy in Conyers until it moves to its new location on Ga. Highway 81 in Covington next year. "I used to drive by homeless persons and say, "They need to get a job,' but then I realized I made mistakes in my life, just like they could have to get there. The Bible teaches that we should go help those less fortunate."
Church members bought or collected enough coats, gloves, blankets, hats, socks, food and other items to help about 200 individuals.
"I got a couple hundred Bibles; 100 Hispanic Bibles and 100 English ones," Morris said. "We also went to some local hotels, which donated hygiene items like deodorant, shampoo, washcloths and some other things like that. We made little carry bags with all of that in there."
Members also made sandwich lunches and picked up hamburgers to hand out.
Instead of going to homeless shelters or soup kitchens in downtown Atlanta, the church members visit the outer perimeter streets of Atlanta.
"People in the inner city can walk to the shelters, but those in the outer areas have no way to get there," Morris said.
He said two van-loads of church members ride around the inner-city shelters to see the lines of individuals waiting for help, but they normally stop at abandoned properties and gas stations on the outer perimeter where they see the homeless gathered.
"Last year, I saw somebody's head sticking up out of a Dumpster, so I jumped in and helped him out," Morris said. "Some of the teens were in the van with tears because they only hear about that kind of thing. They don't really understand it until they see it."
Tyler Needham, son of Living Way Worship Center Bishop Tim Needham, has made the church trip around Atlanta three times and said it's worth giving up a little time with friends.
"As a kid, I grew up with everything I ever wanted for Christmas," said Needham, 15, a student at Salem High School. "But when I go on the trip, I see kids my age and younger. Living in Rockdale ... you never see the homeless as you would there - you are walking into a whole different world."
Morris said some neighborhoods are too dangerous for the teenagers to get out, so he will let them stay in the van while a few large men make the deliveries in case any problems arise.
Needham said one time, the group went into an abandoned neighborhood after they saw one person and swarms of people came down a hill in hopes of getting food and clothing.
"We usually run out of food when that happens," he said. "The first time I went, I was amazed how poverty stricken Atlanta is - we are supposed to be one of the highest countries in the world. They live and breathe to survive."
He said even though some of his friends said he is wasting his Saturday, he feels it's his responsibility to help these people every year.
"We can give to them, and that may change their life," he said. "It's a need. If you reach out to them, they may realize there is somebody else who cares about them."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.