February 21, 2013

Suzanne Edwards is passionate about Catholic Charities

February 21, 2013 Joyce Marie Taylor Suwannee Democrat

Jasper — Catholic Charities Second Harvest Food Bank has been serving Hamilton County for the last 13 years in cooperation with the emergency management office, according to Executive Director Suzanne Edwards, who recently spoke to the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners.

Don’t be deceived by the name of the organization, Edwards said.

“I’m Southern Baptist and I’m the CEO,” said Edwards. “It’s about our mission statement.”

She explained that they help anyone in need regardless of their church affiliation, or if they have no affiliation at all.

“We are your helpmate in helping your residents through these hard times,” said Edwards. Although they’ve had a presence in the county for 13 years, Edwards said she found out that the county commissioners were unaware of all they had been doing, so she gave them a brief update at the Feb. 5 meeting of the board.

The 12-12-12 Project in Jennings alone this past December, Edwards said, was able to give needy residents six meals per person that included frozen chicken, canned goods and dry goods along with $8,100 dollars worth of gas cards that were given out to those who had valid driver licenses.

“That was a gracious gift that we received and we bestowed $8,100 on Hamilton County at a time when most needy people are trying to get through this economic crisis,” said Edwards.

Catholic Charities has been taking care of the under-served citizens in five counties, of which Hamilton is one, but over the last 48 months, Edwards said, they are seeing middle class America struggling, too. The fact that 16,000 pounds of food was given out in two hours on December 12th kind of puts it into perspective, she said. Then their two back to back weekly visits to the Jasper Civic Center on Jan. 9 and Jan. 16 with with yet another 12,000 pounds of food clearly showed there is a need in the county.

For the three weeks they spent in Hamilton County between Dec. 12 and Jan. 16, Catholic Charities provided 9,318 meals for 1,533 people, 217 full backpacks for needy students, plus $8,100 in gas cards, and it all happened in less than three hours total, Edwards said.

For citizens having difficulty feeding their family, keeping their lights on, or paying their rent, Edwards said it was time to think outside the box.

“That’s when we took the Feed-a-Family Mobile Outreach out to the field,” said Edwards.

The program was well received and Edwards said they backed off on their mobile visits thinking people would simply come to the food bank in Lake City. That didn’t happen because those who needed the food had no transportation to get there. It is 51 miles from Jennings to the Lake City food bank and 51 miles back, she noted.

Edwards said, “It’s wonderful dealing with communities that say you have something, we need something, what can we do to work together?”

Edwards point in her presentation was that she needed a place locally in Jasper where her organization could set up a permanent office so they could offer even more services to the community, such as financial assistance and other programs.

“There are many times I cannot help the person because they do not fit the criteria, but that’s why we have skilled case managers.”

Edwards said they will continue to bring the mobile outreach program to Hamilton County and she would like to continue to be able to use the Jennings Public Library and the Jasper Civic Center as distribution points.

“I’m passionate about what Catholic Charities does and the fact that we help make a difference in people’s lives,” Edwards said.

Commissioner Randy Ogburn said, “We’re grateful for what you’ve done and we want to do what we can to help you make it a success for our people.”

Ogburn told Edwards to continue working with County Coordinator Danny Johnson, County Clerk Greg Godwin and Emergency Management Director Henry Land to ensure the needs of Hamilton County citizens are met.

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