Phyllis Bryson is used to bringing joy to children and families.
She and her husband spent 40 years working during the Christmas season as a pair of Santa’s helpers, and now they take trips to Booneville, Kentucky, to bring some extra cheer to the people who live there.
They just finished their fifth trip to Booneville — a town in one of the poorest counties in the United States — taking clothes and food and giving it all away for free.
“This year we had 289 familes register at the giveaway,” she said. “And we write down the number in their family, so that means we covered 979 people with something this year. Whether it was a toy, a shirt, a pair of shoes, a pair of socks, we covered 979 people this year.”
After doing this for five years, Bryson has the mission trip down to a science. She knows someone can sponsor a bag of food for $8.71. She knows on Wednesdays, she can go to a thrift store in Lawrenceville and buy anything for a quarter. She’s been working at it for years and is happy to give back.
“I buy winter boots, winter shoes, tennis shoes, jeans, all for a quarter,” Bryson said. “It's a mad house, but I bought 245 pair of jeans and it cost me $62. I have done my research, believe me.”
This year, she took a 53-foot trailer packed full of clothes and food to the Booneville United Methodist Church’s family life center. They unpacked it and got it all set up and ready to be shopped for. Bryson said they let 15 people in at a time to shop for 20 minutes.
“It's totally like a department store in there,” Bryson said. “We give them bags as they come through the door and they’re just cramming stuff in. A lot of times, they're raking off the table into that bag because there's a need there. And they're just so thrilled to get it.”
They don’t start letting people in until about 8 a.m., but there’s a line forming hours before that.
“I had no idea you could travel 345 miles and people still had to live like that,” Bryson said. “I had no idea.”
She doesn’t do it all on her own. Brysin has had help and support from people all over Hall County and even out of state.
New Haven Church, where Bryson is a member, supports her along with a few other churches.
“It’s just amazing to see it happen,” said Beth Canada, a member at New Haven. “I’ve helped Phyllis for two years, making it happen, but this was my first year going … It was just amazing to see it all laid out and then when it was over there was nothing left.”
Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church, Rocky Grove Baptist Church in Tiger, Community Chapel Congregational Holiness Church in Dahlonega and Dryman’s Chapel United Methodist in Otto, North Carolina also partner with Bryson.
And it’s not just churches getting involved. Crane Transport provided the truck and driver to get everything to Kentucky and Wilheit Packaging has always donated boxes to pack it all in.
“I didn't know how to start a mission like this,” Bryson said. “But I fully believe in prayer, so I prayed and prayed and then I thought, ‘I've got my answer.’ And if God brings me to it, he'll bring me through it. And he just started opening doors and it just started rolling.”
After this year’s giveaway was over, there were just a few pairs of shoes left and a couple shirts strewn across a table. There were a handful of coats hanging on a rack. There were 40 bags of food left over out of the 520 they took.
“Kids, especially in this region, kids have more than they know what to do with,” Canada said of North Georgia. “But up there, school supplies are a luxury.”
Apart from school supplies and other items, they gave out 500 Bibles and had 19 people saved.
That’s why Bryson does this every year. While it feels good to give back, she said the reason she and a team of about 20 others go each year is to share their faith.
“I can't hardly talk about it without crying,” Bryson said. “It's just grown and grown. It’s been big, but every year we see more people register and more people saved. So it's worth all the efforts and all the work. It's worth all the 10 months of hard work for the outcome we get. It's worth it all. I'd do it more if I could.”