For more information, visit caringhandsministries.com or call 706-219-1980.
Two things motivate Ann Fleming to keep doing what she does.
“How do you walk away from a homeless 10-month-old?” asked the 72-year-old co-founder of Caring Hands Ministries in Cleveland. “When do you say I give up? I won’t help you anymore? You can’t do it.”
Fleming, her husband and the late Mrs. Mervin Caudell founded the organization in 1995 after the Flemings had a confrontation with members of their former church in White County.
“There was a family in Clermont, two elderly people, who had been robbed of everything they had including their cat,” Fleming said. “Their next-door neighbor who went to that church asked if we’d take them some food. How was I supposed to know everybody at the church was going to explode?”
The Flemings soon started collecting and distributing food independently from their church. Then calls from the community began pouring in to their home.
“Somehow all of them were saying, we have a donation for your caring hands ministry,” Fleming said. “Eventually it dawned on us that God was calling it Caring Hands.”
After 20 years, Caring Hands Ministries has gone from taking food to “a few shut-ins and people who were really in need” to helping more than 10,000 people in Hall, Lumpkin, White, Habersham and Dawson counties with home re-establishment, clothes, diapers, and money for rent, utilities and prescriptions.
The all-volunteer ministry also operates a summer camp thanks to funding from the nonprofit Americans Helping Americans.
Recently, Caring Hands, with assistance from area businesses and churches, helped Tiffany Hopkins, a 31-year-old mother of five from Gainesville.
Hopkins suffered from health problems following the birth of her youngest child. Her condition required her to be placed on medical leave from her job at Pilgrim’s Pride. Then Hopkins and her family had to move, which resulted in the family’s clothes and belongings being ruined.
Hopkins contacted Fleming via Facebook. She sought the older woman’s help for her and her children, who range in age from 10 months to 5 years old.
“(Caring Hands) has been helping me and my kids as far as weekly rent, food and clothes for my children, because we lost all of our clothes,” Hopkins said. “They’ve been a real blessing to me and my children.”
One thing Fleming laments as the former coordinator for the homeless students program in Gainesville City and Hall County schools is the lack of local homeless shelters for families.
“There is no week that goes by that we don’t get two or three calls from families,” Fleming said. “There’s another family we’re helping right now that has a 3-year-old daughter — this child has been homeless probably three-quarters of her life.”
Caring Hands relies on corporate and church donors to help families with rent, utilities and supplies such as coats and food. But the nonprofit also relies on a network of volunteers to distribute the donated and much-needed goods.
Hall County resident Erica Hernandez, 35, came to one of Caring Hands’ events to receive a coat a few years ago. She now volunteers with the organization.
“I just love what I do,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s awesome what they do.”
But the nonprofit not only supplies tangible goods for the needy. The ministry tries to feed the soul as well. Caring Hands offers a Sunday afternoon fellowship at a rented space in Cleveland for people who feel they “don’t have the wardrobe” for mainstream church.
That’s the second thing that keeps the Connecticut native and Georgia transplant of 40 years going — the genuine belief Caring Hands’ work is part of a bigger plan.
“We believe it’s what God wants us to do,” Fleming said.