By Steffenie Burns
The holiday season is approaching quickly, bringing with it dreams of tables crowded with savory dishes and decadent desserts, tempting all that pass.
However, this is not true for all of Athens’ residents. Seasonal meals can feel less than festive for lower income people as many are left hungry during the time of year when food is mistakenly considered abundant.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 38.1 percent of Athens-Clarke County residents are at or below poverty level. In fact, Clarke County Schools’ list of demographic characteristics, shared by Online Athens, in 2015 reports 23,079 persons out of a total 122, 324 persons in Athens-Clarke County receive food stamps each month—nearly 20 percent of the Athens-Clarke County population.
Local efforts are being made to help every person in Athens get in the holiday spirit. The Sparrow‘s Nest, a Christian based organization that provides aid to impoverished people, will host an annual Thanksgiving meal for those with a lower socio-economic status.
“There’s definitely a large part of the Athens community that cannot access food either due to cost or transportation,” said Sydney McCall, an intern for the Sparrow’s Nest. “Most of our homeless individuals are walking everywhere which makes it difficult to access food.”
Between breakfast and lunch The Sparrow’s Nest feeds 150 to 200 people a day, growing significantly during their holiday months.
“We’ve had an increase in feeding,” said McCall, “I think we’ve already gone up an average of 50 people a day and that is only going to continue…”
The three-hour celebration involves a meal provided by local churches and willing donors from the Athens community.
“During the holiday season, people really want to give back,” said Sydney, “We get a lot more monetary donations, donations for clothing, supplies for the building, and a lot of people who want to volunteer and give back to the community.”
Many of Athens’ residents dedicate their service to those in need, Rayeanne Queen is one of them. Queen is a unique volunteer that has stood on both sides of the service line before.
For 25 years Queen was homeless, struggling with a serious drug addiction until she found help through The Sparrow’s Nest.
Addiction is only a fragment of the hardships Queen has faced. In 2013, her battle with homelessness and substance abuse; Queen said she was a victim of rape and chose to testify in court. It was during this time the homeless community turned against her, leaving Queen betrayed and hurt by the only family she knew.
Frustrated, Queen burned down the North Avenue Bridge, an act that sent her to prison for three years and eight months.
“When I first came home (from prison)…I wanted to do something different to get help because I started with absolutely nothing,” said Queen.
Throughout the year, Queen donates cans of food and clothing items when she’s able. She also helps with ministry services The Sparrow’s Nest provides. However, this holiday season she is celebrating a new perspective.
“This is the first year in twenty-five years that I have been on the other side, that I’m able to give. And I feels so good. I depended on this place…this place was my family, and this was where I spent my holidays.”