A Harlem outreach ministry celebrated its first permanent location Wednesday with ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremonies.
Hands Up Outreach Ministry, an effort of several churches and volunteers, began in the summer and used the former Columbia Theatre building.
Viola Watts, the ministry's founder and executive director, smiled broadly as she cut the ribbon officially opening the ministry's new location at 110 South Hicks St. behind Harlem's fire station.
"I thank God for this vision," Watts said. "I thank God for choosing me to start this ministry. I want to thank all the organizations and churches that have come behind me and helped. I wouldn't have been able to do it if it hadn't been for them."
The small three-room building, once an office building for the former CSX train depot, was renovated with paint and tile and includes a waiting room, an office and a storage room lined with shelves and cabinets.
The ministry, which formed over the summer, currently hands out donated bread, food and toiletries from 10:30 a.m. to noon each weekday and accepts donations of nonperishable food items and toiletries to distribute to those in need.
The ministry is supported by volunteers from several churches and organizations, including Second Mount Moriah, Fountain Grove, Harlem, New Holt, New Hope and Piney Grove Baptist churches; Harlem United Methodist Church; Columbia County Family Connection; The Harlem Foundation; Word of Life Church; and the city of Harlem.
"It began here in Harlem, but it is meant to serve all of the community, anyone who needs our help," said the Rev. Roger Vest, of Harlem Baptist Church. "It was meant to gather the churches together, gather people of faith, gather the government and civic groups, anyone who has a heart for the community. There are many different ways of helping people. I think one of the best is collaboration."
The ministry also holds a community worship service at 7 p.m. each fourth Friday of the month at Harlem Middle School.
Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said the ministry's new building, which is leased to the city from CSX, was used for storage when it was no longer used as an office.
"We used it for the fire department to store stuff for a long time and we found a better use for it," Dean said.
Watts said the new building will provide enough space for now, but she is already on the hunt for a Harlem building to use as a storefront and storage space to allow the ministry to accept larger donated items.
On Nov. 15, the ministry will begin accepting donations of hams and turkeys and toys for the holiday season. Donations can be dropped off on weekdays between 10:30 a.m. and noon. Monetary donations can be mailed to: Hands Up Outreach Ministry, P.O. Box 1449, Harlem, GA 30814.
Philip Vestal, the pastor of Harlem Baptist Church, said he is proud to be a part of the ministry that he equates with the Bible story of the Good Samaritan.
"We can't make a difference all at once," Vestal said. "We can't make an impact through the entire community. But what we can do is one by one, one step at a time, we can make a difference."
For more information, contact Watts at (706) 556-2259 or (706) 361-2217.
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