Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Yes, there are hungry and homeless people in Tennessee's wealthiest county

GraceWorks Director Pulls No Punches, Will Speak in Franklin Thursday June 7

Tina Edwards

Just because Williamson County is the wealthiest county in Tennessee does not mean it is without poverty or families who have to scramble for their next meal.  Perhaps no one is more aware of those needs than GraceWorks Ministries Executive Director Tina Edwards, who will be the guest speaker at the Williamson County Democratic Party's monthly Potluck Dinner Thursday June 7 at WCDP headquarters in downtown Franklin.  

The Potluck is open to the public and will begin at 6:30 at WCDP headquarters, 112 East Fowlkes Street, off Columbia Avenue and five blocks south of Five Points.  Guests are invited to bring a dish, but it is not necessary.  Children are welcome.

GraceWorks is a Christian non-profit 501(c)(3) which helps supply the residents of Williamson County with basic needs of life.  GraceWorks operates a food pantry, a thrift store and served more than 5,000 families in 2011.  Of its annual budget of about $2,000,000, approximately 89% goes directly to client services, according to GraceWorks officials.

Since the economic downturn which was sparked by the financial crisis of 2008, GraceWorks has seen a changing face of need, that coming from entrepreneurs, middle management persons and those mainstream type Williamson Countians who had never before faced foreclosure, job loss and the need to reach out for food and help. 

GraceWorks served 5,279 families in 2011, up from 4,235 in 2010, as compared to 3,159 in 2006 before the financial crisis.  GraceWorks last year also distributed 5,697 "fuel bags," which are packs of food and snacks that teachers discretely stuff in students' back packs on Friday afternoons. 

"The face of employment has changed, and the face of need has changed," Edwards said recently.  "The type of person we see has changed.  We are seeing a lot more situational circumstances since the financial crisis.  Most of these are families.  They don't know where to go to apply for food stamps, for instance.  When you never had to rely on assistance before, you don't know where to start.

"The self-employed have been hard-hit," Edwards said.  "People like graphic designers, people in real estate or insurance.  Williamson County has a large number of self-employed.  And corporations are looking to stretch their business dollars, leaving many who were in middle management without jobs and having to go to lesser jobs. 

"This has left families with fewer options.  That trickles down as those type of folks take jobs typically held by young people, who then get pushed out of work," Edwards said.

GraceWorks coordinates its efforts with about 75 churches, various grocery stores, a medical clinic, an eye doctor and many more resources and agencies.   

To charge its mission GraceWorks refers to various scripture, including Matthew chapter 25, verse 40: "…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

As  executive director Edwards is responsible for leadership and management, fundraising, communications and the coordination of multifaceted funding initiatives.  In her two years as executive director there have been more than 10,000 requests for assistance.  Edwards led the GraceWorks team in distributing nearly $100,000 worth of aid to victims of the 2010 flood.

The WCDP has a monthly Potluck Dinner meeting the first Thursday of every month and holds Coffee Klatch, an informal discussion of issues, every Saturday morning.  The WCDP also includes WC Young Democrats, WC Democratic Women and WC Democratic Veterans Council.  All meetings are open to the public.

Special events and community service projects of the Williamson County Democratic Party include Feed Franklin First, Adopt-a-Highway, Town Hall Meetings on current topics, Red Cross blood donor drives, voter registration drives, support of veterans and Operation Stand Down, Make It Blue, maintenance of voter resources on WCDP web site and fund-raising to benefit other Williamson County non-profit organizations.  

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